In recent news, Public Enemy hype man Flavor Flav was arrested for driving under the influence in Las Vegas. This arrest follows a string of other charges plaguing the Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famer including charges for marijuana-related DUI, speeding, open container, operating a vehicle without a valid permit, and battery. Considering the length of the rap legend’s rap sheet, you can imagine how quickly Flavor Flav said “Yeahhh Boiii” when the judge in the most recent case accepted his plea of no contest. In some states, when you are arrested for a crime, you have the option of pleading three different ways to the charges: not guilty, guilty, or no contest. Generally, the government will offer you some type of deal in order for you to plead guilty or no contest because it gives the government a chance to close your case quickly and secure an easy conviction. Flava Flav’s case illustrates an important point about handling a DUI or DWI in DC.
In many cases, it is common for the government to offer some sort of lighter sentence in return for a defendant’s guilty plea. In other cases, a defendant may plead no contest (or nolo contendere) and the government will not oppose this plea because the defendant will be punished the same way as if he or she pled guilty. A no contest plea is preferable for some defendants because it allows the defendant to avoid admitting guilt for the crime and the negative effects that a guilty plea may have otherwise had in the future. A nolo contendere plea is basically the Defendant saying: “I may or may not be guilty but I don’t want to take the time and effort to challenge the prosecution.”
For example, let’s say you are drinking and driving one evening and you accidently side-swipe someone’s car. Then the government charges you with DUI. The government offers you a lighter sentence if you plead guilty. A few months later, you receive notice that the owner of the car you side-swiped has filed a civil lawsuit against you for property damages. In the lawsuit, the car owner’s attorney can bring in evidence that you pled guilty to the criminal charges as a way to prove that you are financially liable for the damages.
Now assume that you pled no contest instead of guilty. You are convicted of the crime but you do not have to admit to any wrongdoing. Fast forward to the lawsuit, now the car owner’s attorney cannot bring in evidence that you pled no contest to the criminal charges as a way to prove financial liability because you didn’t admit guilt.
Unfortunately, however, in the District of Columbia, it is virtually impossible for a defendant to plead no contest in a DUI case because the government will almost always oppose it. While judges have the authority to accept a no contest plea without the government’s support, they rarely ever do. This pattern of government opposition and judicial non-acceptance of no contest pleas is unique to DC because most jurisdictions, like in Flavor Flav’s case, frequently allow no contest pleas.
To make matters worse, the government’s guilty plea offer in a DUI case is anything but a deal. As previously explained, in general you are no better off pleading guilty to a DC DUI than you would be if you took the case to trial and lost. At least if you went to trial you’d actually have a chance of winning.
In the unfortunate event that you are arrested for a DUI within the District of Columbia, it is essential that you hire a skilled DC DUI lawyer who will help you choose the best plea option for your case. At Scrofano Law PC, we help our clients make the right choice now so that they have a better future tomorrow.