Should You Plead Guilty to a DUI?

Find out the consequences of pleading guilty, or "no contest", to a DUI/DWI charge.

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If you do plan to plead guilty, you will likely be handed a form by the bailiff (or your attorney if you have one) in which you waive all of your constitutional rights in this case—such as your right to remain silent, your right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to a jury trial. There will a number of disclosures on the form regarding the possible punishment you face and its consequences. In some courts, the judge goes over the form with you in detail in open court while other judges refrain from putting it on the record. The reason for the form (and the open court dialog with the judge) is to make sure you can't come back later and challenge the conviction on the grounds you were not well informed about your rights.

Conviction Upon Entry of Plea

Once you plead guilty, you have been convicted of the offense. Sometimes people who plead guilty don't understand that this counts as a conviction and when later asked whether they have been convicted of something they answer no. Now you know. A guilty plea equals conviction—just as if a jury found you guilty.

Once convicted, powerful policy considerations make it very difficult for you to withdraw your guilty plea. If you are not represented by an attorney when you enter your plea (or you are being pressured by a public defender to enter the plea), you'll want to make sure that you are doing the right thing in your particular context. Here again, if you can find a private attorney to look at all the facts of your case and agree that a guilty plea is in order, you may be doing yourself a favor—even if the attorney wants a couple of hundred dollars to assess your case.

Likely Consequences of a Conviction

Here's a recap of the likely consequences of a DUI conviction: All states provide that DUI convictions are misdemeanors punishable by up to six months in jail and the imposition of substantial fines. Actual sentences are much less in first time non‑injury DUIs. A number of states provide for a minimum number of days to be served in jail (typically from one to three days), while many others have no minimum sentence. Most states impose large fines, and in most states you also have to pay a lot of money to attend mandatory DUI school. Licenses are typically suspended for up to a year, although most states will allow you to drive to and from work and medical care especially if you agree to an ignition interlock. Finally, most states put you on information probation for up to three years. This usually means that you will do additional jail time if you violate the terms of your probation, which in some states include zero tolerance for blood alcohol content. Finally, your conviction will be available to the DMV.

If you have prior DUI convictions all bets are off. Judges are much more likely to look at the individual case when priors are present than when it's the first time. If your BAC is just a little above .08, or your driving and field tests didn't indicate serious impairment, the judge will sentence you to the minimum required by your state's laws. But if the BAC is .15 or more, or you clearly evidenced bad driving that might have hurt someone if you hadn't been stopped, he or she may throw the book at you.

For the minimum and maximum sentences in your state, visit www.ncdd.com and click the state law button on the upper left side of the home page.

Finally, you will be required to attend DUI school. They say that in every crisis, there is an opportunity. Such is the case with DUI school. When you are convicted of a DUI, you are set up for much harsher sentence and fine if you are convicted of a subsequent DUI within the next 7 to 10 years. In that case, there will be no reasonable question about attorney representation—you will need it. But the best way to handle a second DUI is to not get one. That's what DUI school is all about. If you take it seriously, the likelihood of a repeat offense will go way down.

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