If I’m Pleading Guilty, do I Still Need a DUI Lawyer?
Maybe you were been pulled over. Perhaps you were flagged at a DUI checkpoint. It could be that you had an accident. Whatever your circumstances, you were caught driving under the influence. You know you were tipsy or high. They know you were tipsy or high. You decide you’re going to cop to the charges. Naturally, your next question is, “If I’m pleading guilty, do I still need a DUI lawyer?” The answer is a resounding YES.
Before addressing all of the ways that a Bay Area DUI lawyer can help you, let’s tackle the repercussions of you going at it alone and pleading guilty.
Your DUI Arrest
Your driving impairment may come to the attention of law enforcement for a number of reasons. Once you’re pulled over, the police officer may ask you to blow into a breathalyzer or conduct a series of field sobriety tests. Field sobriety tests can include asking you to stand on one leg, to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line, and to hold your head steady and follow an object to one side and the other with your eyes. If your breathalyzer reading is .08 or more, or if the officer believes your performance on the field sobriety tests indicates that you are driving under the influence, then you’re arrested for violating the California Vehicle Code.
After Your Arrest
If you haven’t been injured in an accident, after your arrest you’re taken to jail. Most likely, you’re taken to the Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility in Oakland. There, you’re asked to submit to a breath test to measure your blood alcohol content. If you blow a .08, you’re charged with driving under the influence. If your blood alcohol content is lower than that, you’re asked to submit to a blood test to determine if you have drugs – legal or illegal – in your system. It’s important to note that refusing to take either of these tests results in an additional charge against you.
Next, you spend some time in a jail holding cell. Depending on whether or not you’ve had prior DUI convictions, you are then released on your own recognizance, released on bail, or held in jail pending your preliminary hearing. Being released on your own recognizance means that you sign paperwork promising to appear for your court date. Being released on bail means that you post a financial bond that you’ll get back when you return to court. If you’re held in jail, you either can’t pay for or aren’t eligible for bail. This is rare in Bay Area DUI cases.
Navigating the DMV Process
If you’ve been arrested for a DUI in Alameda County and have been released from jail, you may be asking, “If I’m pleading guilty, do I still need a DUI lawyer?” Two of the many reasons that you need an Alameda County DUI attorney are that you have to navigate two difficult DUI processes.
The first DUI process pertains to the Department of Motor Vehicles. When you’re arrested for a driving under the influence, your driver’s license is taken away and you’re issued a 30-day temporary license. Unless you request a DMV hearing or a restricted license within ten days, the DMV automatically suspends your license. That can spell disaster for getting to and from work, driving your kids to and from school and activities, and running errands.
You are entitled to ask for a restricted license, which requires that you install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle. An IID is essentially a breathalyzer that checks your blood alcohol content before allowing you to start the car. The IID also requires you to blow into it periodically as you’re driving. If you’re on the hook for your first DUI, you need to keep the IID installed for four months. If it’s not your first DUI, then you need to keep the IID for one year.
If you instead opt to ask for a DMV hearing, it may be held over the phone or it may be held in person at the DMV’s Oakport Street office in Oakland. This is your opportunity to argue that there is no basis for the DMV to suspend or revoke your license. If you’re unsuccessful and it is your first DUI, then your license is suspended for four months. If it’s your second, third, or fourth DUI, then your license is suspended for one year. This is the time to pause and consider that – even if you think you want to plead guilty – you may need an Alameda County DUI lawyer at your side. After all, how many DMV administrative hearings have you participated in? How many has a seasoned Alameda County DUI lawyer participated in? It’s one of those situations – like trying to DIY selling a house – that are probably a mistake because you simply don’t know how to do it well.
Navigating the DUI Court Process
Understanding and working through a DMV administrative hearing is small potatoes compared to navigating the court process surrounding a DUI charge. But let’s simply look at the bottom line. If you decide you’re going to plead guilty, the court process is fairly straightforward. You arrive at your DUI arraignment and the prosecutor states the charges against you. The judge asks if you plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. You say that you plead guilty, the judge sentences you, and the case is closed.
What type of sentence might you serve? It depends upon the number of DUI convictions you have and compounding factors to the DUI charges. For a first offense misdemeanor, you can spend up to six months in jail, pay between $390 and $1,000 in fines, attend an alcohol education program for three to nine months, and either have your driver’s license suspended for up to ten months or install an ignition interlock device for six months.
For a second offense misdemeanor, you can spend between four days and one year in jail, pay up to $1,000 in fines, attend an alcohol education program for up to 30 months, and have your driver’s license suspended for two years or have an IID for one year. For a third misdemeanor conviction, the minimum jail time is 120 days, the license suspension is for three years, and the alcohol education program lasts for 30 months. If someone was injured, you may be convicted of either a misdemeanor or a felony, which can mean up to a one-year stint in the county jail or up to 16 years in state prison, plus fines, alcohol education, and license suspension.
Those punishments are very straightforward, though they’re the tip of the iceberg when it comes to costs associated with a DUI conviction. A DUI conviction can mean losing your job and the financial repercussions associated with that, paying thousands of dollars in court fees in addition to fines, paying to retrieve your impounded car, paying exorbitant insurance rates, and more.
Why to Reconsider Your Plea
So, before asking, “If I’m pleading guilty, do I still need a DUI lawyer?”, you may want to reconsider pleading guilty. If you have an Oakland DUI attorney by your side, they most certainly will advise you to plead not guilty. That’s because the law says that the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you have committed a crime rests with the prosecution. It is in your best interest to make them earn a conviction.
Even if you were driving under the influence, it is better to plead not guilty. It is also in your best interest to have an Alameda County DUI lawyer at your side throughout the DUI court and DMV administrative hearing processes. The rationale is straightforward.
First, your Oakland DUI lawyer has access to police reports and witness statements. They know what kind of evidence the prosecution has against you. They can use that knowledge to defend against the charges. For example, they can challenge the accuracy of field sobriety tests and attribute poor performance to anxiety, age, physical impairments, or environmental conditions. They may argue that you registered a false high blood alcohol content because you had residual mouth alcohol or had used a medication or mouthwash that threw off the test. They can question whether the officer had probable cause to stop you or posit that the officer violated your rights.
Second, your Alameda County DUI attorney understands the nuances of the law and the nuts and bolts of how the prosecutor’s office is run. Your lawyer knows that the district attorney’s office can’t bring every case to trial. In fact, they try only a tiny percentage of cases involving criminal charges. Your Oakland DUI lawyer uses that information to your advantage.
Third, your attorney can leverage their experience to get you a better deal. If you plead guilty from the start, then you have no bargaining chips. On the other hand, your Alameda County DUI attorney knows that the prosecutor is looking for a guilty plea and is willing to cut a deal. What might that look like? In the best case scenario, the DUI charges are dismissed. In the second-best case scenario, the charges are reduced to reckless driving – what’s known as a “dry reckless” or a “wet reckless” – in exchange for a guilty plea. A wet reckless conviction means that your license isn’t suspended, that you don’t have to install an IID, and that your DUI charges are dismissed.
Fourth, even if a DUI conviction is in the cards, having an attorney can result in a better outcome at sentencing. There’s a world of difference between spending a year in county jail and being on probation for three, four, or five years. Your Oakland DUI lawyer can also advocate for an alternative sentence in lieu of jail or prison time. An alternative sentence can consist of anything from house arrest to roadside garbage pickup to community service. Such alternative sentences are rarely available to defendants who simply plead guilty to DUI charges.
Avoiding a Guilty Plea and Avoiding a DUI Conviction
It is never in your best interest to plead guilty to a DUI charge unless you have an experienced Alameda County DUI attorney by your side. If you do plead guilty to a criminal charge, it’s should be because your attorney has advocated on your behalf and has negotiated a lesser charge or a lighter sentence. If the prosecutor insists on pushing forward with the case, your Oakland DUI lawyer can advise you so that you can make a decision about whether or not to go to trial. Once a trial date is set, the judge or district attorney’s office may push harder for a plea agreement, and you can still receive the best possible outcome for your case.
If you or a loved one have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, time is not on your side. You should contact Silver Law Firm immediately. Silver Law Firm’s Alameda County DUI attorneys understand DUI law and will go to the mat on your behalf.