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Plea Negotiations for a Washington DUI charge

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Aug 09, 2012 | 0 Comments

Most Washington state DUI cases do not proceed to bench or jury trial. In 2011, less than 4% of all DUI and Physical Control cases in Washington ended in trial. Truth be told, most DUI cases are resolved via plea negotiations. The goal when negotiating a DUI case is to get the prosecutor to agree to amend the case as far down as possible.

While I would like to say that most DUI charges are negotiated all the way down to a dismissal or an infraction, that is not the case. Instead, most DUI charges are resolved via an amendment to either Reckless Driving or Negligent Driving - First Degree. Reckless Driving is a gross misdemeanor (similar to DUI), but carries no mandatory jail. Reckless Driving only has a 30 day license suspension and the driver can continue to drive during their suspension with an occupational restricted license (ORL). Negligent Driving - First Degree is a simple misdemeanor (lowest level criminal traffic offense) and carries no mandatory jail, license suspension, high risk insurance or interlock (on a first offense).

Plea negotiations are not like what you see in tv shows such as "Law & Order" where the defendant is present in the office while the prosecutor and defense attorney duke it out. They actually are never part of the process. Each jurisdiction handles the negotiation process differently. They do not begin at the first court appearance (arraignment). In Seattle Municipal Court and King County District Court, the initial offer is usually provided with the police report as part of discovery. Typically, the initial offer is never something worthy of accepting. For a DUI or Physical Control case in Kirkland Municipal Court and Bellevue Municipal Court plea negotiations typically occur via phone or in-person the day of the hearing. In Seattle Municipal Court, negotiations occur at pre-trial conferences in a room outside and adjacent to the courtroom between the defense attorney and negotiating prosecutor.

Sometimes, a favorable offer of reducing a DUI to Reckless Driving or Negligent Driving - First Degree can occur during the pre-trial conference. Other times, an attorney must push the case forward by filing motions and litigating the case. It is common for more negotiations to occur prior to and after a motions hearing. Sometimes a prosecutor recognizes the weakness in their case once they have reviewed defense's motions. Other times, after a motion hearing where key evidence has been suppressed, the prosecutor will offer a favorable reduction.

Plea negotiations will continue up until the final hearing before trial (typically known as a "readiness hearing" or "jury call"). At this last hearing before trial, the prosecutor is forced to prioritize which case(s) they want to take to trial. In the past 11 years I have defended Seattle area DUI and Physical Control charges, I have had many instances where negotiations did not render a favorable offer until the very last court appearance prior to trial.

The attorneys at Wolff Criminal Defense have represented Seattle drivers accused of DUI in courts throughout King County, including Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond and many other cities throughout the Puget Sound area. The attorneys offer a free initial consultation and can be reached directly 7 days a week at 425-284-2000.

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 18 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.


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