As previously mentioned, the District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) prosecutes alcohol related traffic offenses. These offenses include Driving under the Influence (“DUI”), Driving while Intoxicated (“DWI”), and Operating while Impaired (“OWI”). These crimes are essentially the most serious crimes the OAG has jurisdiction over. If you are arrested for DUI, the government will likely charge you with DUI and OWI. OWI is sort of like a lesser offense to DUI. You cannot be convicted and sentenced for both DUI and OWI.
The OAG operates with near uniform policies related to DUI plea negotiations. In fact, a good DC DWI lawyer can usually predict what plea offer the OAG will extend before the prosecutor actually extends the offer. For a typical first offender DUI, the OAG will offer plea to the DUI, dismiss the OWI, and the government will recommend a suspended sentence, one year probation, and a series of alcohol related classes and fines. An overwhelming number of DC DUI cases receive this exact plea offer. For this type of offer, there is almost no incentive to accept the plea offer.
First of all, the person cannot be convicted of both DUI and OWI, so the government dismissing the OWI is a meaningless gesture. In addition, at least at the date of this blog entry, most DC Superior Court judges will mete out that exact sentence for a first offender. That is by no means a guarantee but merely an observation. Therefore, the government asks the individual to give up all of their constitutional rights in exchange for next to nothing in return.
When someone is arrested for DUI, the first court hearing is an arraignment. An arraignment is just a formal reading of the charges. The next court date is a status hearing. It is at the status hearing where the government will extend a plea offer. At the status hearing, the person must decide whether to accept the plea offer or set a trial date. At Scrofano Law, we set almost every DC DUI case for trial at the status hearing. In most (but not all) cases, even if you lose at trial, the result will usually be a sentence along the lines of what the government extended as a plea offer at the status hearing. Therefore, little incentive exists to waive all constitutional rights and plead guilty to a DUI. The government does not offer anything meaningful in return and there is little trial risk for most cases.
There are numerous other factors that can come into play for DUI prosecutions. With DC’s new DUI law, a number of things can trigger mandatory minimum jail sentences. Among other things, repeat offenders, high chemical scores, and whether someone was under the influence of drugs while driving can trigger mandatory minimum jail. In addition, the government may charge the person with additional crimes like Reckless Driving or Speed over 30. In those cases, the government may offer to drop the additional charges, so it could make sense to accept a plea. Or the government may offer a Deferred Sentencing Agreement in some rare cases. These issues will be discussed in future posts. Accordingly, its not a blanket rule to set every case for trial and legal advice should be tailored to each individual case. However, generally the OAG does not extend plea offers that incentivize someone to plead guilty at the status hearing.
If you are arrested for a DC DUI, DWI, and/or OWI, contact Scrofano Law for a full consultation. As a DC DWI lawyer, Joseph A. Scrofano has handled dozens of cases that have resulted in not guilty verdicts, dismissals, and probationary sentences. So, remember: Before you blow, call Joe!