DC DUI Arraignment Pleas

There are two major kinds of pleas that a person can enter in a DUI case. The most common plea at a DC DUI arraignment hearing is the plea of not guilty. It is almost never a good idea to plead guilty at an arraignment hearing. A plea of not guilty establishes that a person on a DUI case, like any criminal case, is innocent until proven otherwise by a prosecutor. That innocence is maintained throughout the case until guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.

In order to best understand and choose from various pleas presented, a DC DUI attorney will be essential help and will advise anyone looking to negotiate their charge.

Choosing a Plea

It is standard practice to enter a not guilty plea at an arraignment. The court would be reluctant to allow a defendant to plead guilty at an arraignment without having an opportunity to conduct an investigation, analysis, or review of all of the evidence against the defendant and to negotiate with the government to see if some lesser, different charges can be agreed upon to resolve the case.

If there is a circumstance where someone were to plead guilty, then the next step would be a sentencing for the judge to decide what punishment to give to them.

If the case progresses and an individual decides to accept a plea offer and plead guilty to some reduced charges—or they just decide as the case progresses that they want to accept responsibility and plead guilty to the charges against them—they still can do so. If the court understands that the individual has discussed their options with their attorney and is certain that it is what they want to do, then the court would then entertain that. If they do so, then the next step would be sentencing, where the court would decide what punishment to give.

Pleading Not Guilty

A plea of not guilty at an arraignment does not mean that the case automatically goes to trial. A plea of not guilty enables a defense attorney to request and receive evidence from the prosecutor, so that the defense attorney can discuss it with their client and engage in any negotiations with the prosecutor that could potentially resolve their client’s case in a favorable way, without taking the case to a trial.

A prosecutor or a judge would not think anything of a client pleading not guilty at an arraignment, as it is expected that most defendants would plead not guilty at their arraignment.

Pleading Guilty

The other kind of plea that a person could enter is a plea of guilty. At the arraignment, the defendant has not yet seen what the evidence against them looks like, the defense lawyer has not had the opportunity to discuss the evidence with the prosecutor, and the defense lawyer has not had an opportunity to discuss with their client how the case and evidence looks against them and the various options that can be explored. A plea of guilty means that a person is admitting that they committed a crime and the only step after pleading guilty would be to get sentenced by the judge.

Once a person has entered a guilty plea, the judge gets the final say as to that person’s punishment. That punishment could include jail time, probation, or a combination of probation and jail time. Once a person has pleaded guilty, there are limited situations in which that guilty plea can be taken back. In most circumstances, once the person has entered a guilty plea, they are sentenced by the judge at which point the person would be convicted of the crime.

Aftermath of a Guilty Plea

Once the person has pleaded guilty, the factual part of the case ends. The person waives certain rights by entering that guilty plea. This is something that a defense lawyer would always review with their client, so their client fully understands what happens when entering a guilty plea. The most important part about entering a plea of guilty is that the defendant no longer has the right to go to trial, call witnesses, or have any arguments about the facts of the case.

The only step after pleading guilty is for a judge to determine the punishment at a sentencing hearing. A person cannot argue their guilt or innocence once they have entered a guilty plea. However, a person can make arguments to the judge through their lawyer as to what the appropriate sentence should be. A DUI defense lawyer in DC can argue to the judge to minimize the penalties at the sentencing hearing.

What does this mean for the case? Is it over and can you get probation before judgment if you plead not guilty?

When a person pleads not guilty at an arraignment, it is the first step in exploring various possible options in a DUI case. Once the defense lawyer has entered a plea of not guilty for their client, the attorney can get access to the prosecutor’s evidence, and make a request to the prosecutor for any additional evidence that could help them figure out how strong the prosecutor’s case is, and discuss with their client any possible defenses.

The various possible options could include taking the case to a trial, which would require the prosecutor to use the evidence and testimony from witnesses, in order to convince the judge or the jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Washington, D.C., there are possible negotiable resolutions that could resolve the case after a plea of not guilty has been entered. This could include an agreement resulting in charges being dismissed, in exchange for the defendant complying with certain conditions known as a deferred sentencing agreement. This type of settlement allows for the defense lawyer to advocate the prosecutor as a possible resolution short of a trial. In D.C., these negotiations happen between defense lawyers and prosecutors; the judges in D.C. are not involved in pre-trial resolutions or pre-trial negotiations.

The closest equivalent to probation before judgment in D.C. is deferred sentencing, which is a similar process and has a related outcome. The main difference is deferred sentencing is an agreement reached between the prosecutor’s offices in D.C., which is the Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the defense attorneys, as opposed to a sentence handed down by a judge.

No Contest Plea

Washington, D.C. has an option for a guilty plea in situations where a person may not remember enough facts of their case to admit that they committed a crime. With any guilty plea, the prosecutor reads the evidence they would have presented if the case had gone to trial, and the defendant agrees by saying, “Yes, that is what I did in this case, and I am guilty of this crime.” This is always a requirement in any guilty plea so the judges know that the defendant is voluntarily pleading guilty as opposed to pleading guilty because they were coerced into it by a lawyer or an outside party. By agreeing to certain facts that constitute the alleged crime, the judge can confidently confirm that the person is voluntarily pleading guilty and admitting that they committed a crime.

In situations where a person does not remember the facts of the case, a person may have the ability to plead no contest. Usually, this applies to situations where a person is intoxicated at the time of the crime. A no contest plea means that the defendant does not proceed with the admission of guilt, however, agrees to the facts alleged in the indictment. In other words, if the case goes to trial, the defendant acknowledges that the prosecutor has enough facts to prove he or she is guilty.

In a no contest plea in D.C., the result is the exact same as a guilty plea. The guilty plea will still show up on the person’s criminal record, and the individual will receive the same sentence as they would for a normal guilty plea.

Working with a Lawyer

If a prosecutor, for example, is asking that a person receive jail time at the sentencing hearing, a defense lawyer can argue that jail time is an overly harsh or unnecessary penalty, and the more appropriate outcome would be to place their client on a probationary period during which they might have to comply with certain conditions, such as alcohol treatment or community service, instead of serving any jail time. At the sentencing hearing, it is the responsibility of a defense lawyer to advocate for the lowest possible penalties available on that case, but ultimately, the judge makes the final decision.