Should You Plead Guilty to a DUI?

How do you weigh your options?

If you know that you will likely be convicted of your DUI, you can save aggravation and money by pleading guilty instead of hiring a lawyer to help you fight the charge.  If you believe there is any possibility that you could have your charge or sentence reduced, get help from a lawyer.  But if that possibility is remote, then pleading guilty might be the right way to go. 

When a Conviction is Likely

Here are the two situations in which you will almost certainly be convicted of a DUI:

  • High BAC. If the mandatory blood or breath test put you at well over .08 BAC, you will likely be convicted of that aspect of DUI if you take it to trial. Your chances of conviction may be over 90% if your BAC is .08 to .11 and near 100% if your BAC is .20 or greater. And, in a number of states, the punishment will be worse if your test shows a level above .15 or .20.
  • Irrefutable evidence that you were drunk. If a police officer or a witness testifies that you were driving like you were drunk, and the field sobriety tests and chemical tests back this up to some degree, you will almost certainly be convicted of driving under the influence even if your test shows a .08 or less.

When You May Have a Fighting Chance 

If the evidence against you is not strong, it may be worth hiring a lawyer to fight the charge or plea bargain for a lesser charge or sentence.  For example, if your BAC was .08 and the field sobriety tests did not show much impairment, an attorney may be able to convince the court that your case is not worth a trial.  Also, if any of these unusual circumstances apply to you, you may have a chance of success at trial:

  • You were not in control of your car when the officer first approached you. This may have been because you knew you couldn’t drive and you pulled over and started walking toward your home, or a telephone, or a bar. Or perhaps you were asleep in the back seat with the engine turned off.
  • You can prove you had one or more drinks between the time you were driving and the time the officer tested you.
  • Two or more police reports were prepared in your case and they vary in important aspects—for instance whether you staggered on the field sobriety test or whether you were observed for at least 20 minutes prior to taking the chemical test.
  • The chemical test was a urine test. A urine test is fairly easy to disprove at trial if it shows a blood alcohol level of .11 or less.
  • You have good independent witnesses who will testify you hadn’t been drinking (or not much anyway) prior to the time you were stopped.

Excerpted and adapted from Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court & Win, by David W. Brown (Nolo).

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