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The holidays were fun and you had a good time ... until you got charged with DUI. Now you are looking at a new year full of difficult choices, most notably whether to take a plea or go to trial.
The good news is that you decide. The bad news is that trial is a dice roll, and even if you are found not guilty, you will still have to go through the stressful experience. How do you know what to choose?
Taking a Plea
The vast majority of criminal cases are settled with a plea bargain. While that may sound startling to strangers to the criminal justice system, settlement deals are standard because they limit risk for all parties and represent compromise.
If you are charged with DUI and agree to take a plea, the terms of your deal will be dictated by state statute. Each state has its own drinking and driving laws but most involve relatively similar penalties. In DUI and DWI cases, prosecutors tend to have less leeway with respect to plea deals and the settlement terms are more or less dictated by the state.
Generally speaking, with limited exception, for a first DUI, you can expect to be put on probation, ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and you will likely see your license suspended for a time. Still, the details of your case will impact how often you may have to attend AA or other probation terms.
Going to Trial
Going to trial is the defendant's right and decision. You are entitled to a trial if you want one and many people do get found not guilty at trial. But not everyone can afford to risk the heightened punishments that may come as a result of a sentence handed down by a judge, as opposed to a negotiated plea. Sometimes people take a plea just because they need to know what will happen and try to organize their lives around it.
Your lawyer does not decide whether you go to trial. Your lawyer advises you so that you can make the best decision for your life. If you feel pressured to take a plea when you really believe in going to trial, consider talking to another lawyer. This is true even if you are represented by a state-appointed public defender. Your right to trial remains the same.
Consult With Counsel
If you have been charged with a DUI or DWI, do not delay. Speak to a criminal defense attorney about your case and get a sense of what you are up against. Most importantly, get help.