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The Benefits and Risks of Accepting a Plea Bargain in Your Florida DUI Case

If a Florida law enforcement agency has arrested you for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and drugs, your mind will undoubtedly roil with numerous questions as your first court date approaches. Some of the most likely questions you’ll internally debate include:

  • Can I beat the charges?
  • Should I get a lawyer?
  • What happens if I just plead guilty?
  • What am I going to do if I lose my Driver’s license?
  • How much is the fine, and what other penalties do I face?

A question that may not occur to you is whether you should accept a plea bargain deal in your Florida DUI case. Tallahassee’s Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law will tell you that few DUI suspects ponder the benefits and risks of accepting a potential plea deal until their DUI defense lawyer raises the prospect or if offered by the prosecutor. They’ll also advise you that you stand the best chance of securing a favorable plea deal with the help of a competent DUI lawyer. Read on to learn more about how plea bargains work in Florida and the potential benefits and risks of accepting a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

Understanding How Plea Deals Work in Florida DUI Cases

Whether for a DUI case or other criminal charge, a plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and prosecutor in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for specific concessions. A common plea bargain used in Florida DUI cases is charge bargaining, where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser offense. For example, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to reckless driving charges in lieu of the DUI prosecution.

Another type of plea bargaining used in Florida DUI cases is sentence bargaining, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the original charges in exchange for a lighter punishment. Sentence bargaining is often offered as an enticement by prosecutors with a strong case and compelling evidence that will likely result in a conviction at trial. If the defendant agrees to plead guilty, the prosecutors agree to pursue leniency in sentencing.

Benefits of a DUI Plea Bargain Deal

Many DUI and other criminal charges are resolved by plea bargaining in Florida because such agreements benefit the defendant and prosecutors. Both sides benefit by knowing the certainty of a case’s outcome. At trial, the verdict is never certain until the court renders judgment, and judges have broad discretion in subsequent sentencing decisions when the case results in conviction. Additionally, while the defendant benefits from a reduction in the charge(s) and/or severity of the penalties, both sides and the court benefit by avoiding the cost, time, and inconvenience of attending trial.

From a Florida DUI defendant’s standpoint, a charge bargaining plea deal that leads to reduced charges is the most beneficial. A DUI charge reduced to reckless driving may allow the driver to retain their driver’s license and results in:

  • Less likelihood of jail time, probation terms, and community service.
  • No mandatory DUI school (although this may still be required to get a hardship license.)
  • Lower fines.
  • Fewer driving record points.
  • Lower insurance premium hikes.
  • Limited impact on career (a DUI conviction jeopardizes some occupations and professional licenses).
  • Potential to have criminal record sealed.

While not as favorable, a sentence bargaining plea deal can at least ensure that the defendant is only sentenced to the bare minimum statutory penalties. This can prove invaluable if the prosecutors have a solid case and could seek harsh penalties due to aggravating circumstances.

Risks and Potential Drawbacks of Plea Deals

Agreeing to a plea deal carries potential risks and potential drawbacks, especially if you enter an agreement without the counsel of a skilled defense lawyer. Whether for lesser charges or reduced penalties, by agreeing to plead guilty, you negate your right to challenge the charges. Florida laws also significantly limit a defendant’s ability to file an appeal if they plead guilty.

Plea deal arrangements can be complicated, and defendants sometimes misunderstand the terms of a plea bargain and end up pleading guilty for limited returns. Defendants can also misunderstand the consequences of accepting a plea, whether the negotiated penalties or the impacts those penalties might have on their life.

Absent a defense lawyer, you might believe that the prosecutors have a solid case against you, making you more willing to agree to any plea deals the prosecution offers. However, a competent DUI defense lawyer may be able to identify flaws with police procedures or the evidence that could derail the prosecution’s case, or at the least, make them willing to offer reasonable terms in plea bargaining.

Your lawyer will ensure that you fully understand all elements of any potential plea deal, including what you are admitting guilt to, whether it will lead to a criminal record, the penalties involved, and how it represents a better option than challenging the charges. An experienced defense lawyer will also be effective in the negotiations. Given their working relationship with their counterparts, they will know what factors might influence the prosecution towards favorable terms. They will know how to leverage any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case to secure the best plea deal.

Cowhey + Ward criminal defense attorneys have successfully defended many Tallahassee-area drivers against Florida’s DUI laws. Cowhey + Ward lawyers examine all facets of each case to strategize the most effective defense. With a positive professional relationship with Leon County prosecutors, our lawyers are adept at negotiating favorable plea deals for our clients when warranted. To learn how Cowhey + Ward can help you negotiate a positive DUI plea deal or mount an effective challenge to the charges, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.

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