Monday, January 21, 2013

Seismic shift in negotiating policies of major Prosecutor office in Washington state on DUI cases

Over the past 6 months a major change has been in occurring with one of the largest Prosecutor offices in Washington state when it comes to DUI cases.  Due to what the higher ups in the office feel is an inadequate conviction rate on DUI cases compared to other Prosecutor offices in the same jurisdiction.  A new policy has been put in place gradually over the past year and half.  No longer will cases be reduced based on mitigating circumstances or even if the breath or blood test is barely over the legal limit.  If a DUI case has no legal issues resulting in possible dismissal, or suppression of key evidence a reduction will no longer be offered, and the recommended plea will be to plead guilty as charged.

So what does this mean in lay mans terms.  Basically prior to this policy if an individual was charged with a DUI, it was a first offense, there was no car accident involved, and the breath or blood test was below .12.  Then the opening offer from the Prosecution would most likely be a reduction in charges.  This was due to the long standing tradition of this particular Prosecutors office making the best offer up front.  Unlike other Prosecutor offices where often times the initial plea deal offered is to plead guilty as charged to the DUI, and then through extensive negotiations the charge could possibly be reduced.

The reasoning behind this charge is from what I understand the higher ups in the office are not pleased with the DUI conviction rates compared to another Prosecutors office in the same jurisdiction.  The difference is pretty substantial when you look at the numbers.  So because of this no longer will reductions be offered in most cases unless there are severe legal issues.

As a Seattle DUI lawyer, I must say that I do not agree with this policy change.  Not because of the thinking to increase the DUI conviction rate.  Even though I don't agree with that, DUI cases have a lot of negative publicity.  An election is coming up.  From a political standpoint it makes sense.  But what I don't agree with is two things.  First the thinking that because another Prosecutors office has a higher conviction rate, somehow this is a competition and one office needs to out do another office.  The second issue I have is the lack of any sort of discretion to offer a plea deal on cases they may not have severe legal issues, but have mitigating circumstances.

I have blogged about this before.  But if a Prosecutor I would take the following stance on DUI cases when it comes to negotiating.  If the case was a first offense.  There was no accident involved.  The alcohol level is not extremely high.  The individual was cooperative with the arresting officer and polite.  The individual has completed their alcohol and drug evaluation, along with the ADIS and VIP classes.  And if the individual was willing to do a significant amount of community service then I would offer a reduced charge.

My thinking behind this is two fold.  First if its a first offense, and there were no injuries then nothing bad has happened.  Secondly if the individual was cooperative with the officer, proactive with all their classes, and willing to pay for this mistake through volunteer work that would benefit the community then clearly they are showing a remorse and a certain accountability through their actions.  Which in my opinion speak louder than words.

But I guess that is why I'm a Seattle DUI lawyer, and not a Prosecutor.  So how will this new policy shift affect new DUI cases that fall under this Prosecutors jurisdiction?  Well gone are the days where a supposed DUI Attorney with know experience can walk into court not knowing a thing about DUIs, and get a reduced charge because the breath test is not very high and its a first offense.  Now a days it is even more important to hire an experienced DUI lawyer that knows the law, understands the subtle nuisances of DUI defense, and has the necessary trial skills should the case get that far.   

Matthew Leyba is a DUI Attorney in Seattle, WA.  His practice focuses on representing those accused of DUI and other serious traffic offenses.  He has a high success rate in defending DUIs, and has litigated over 100 jury trials.  If you have been arrested for DUI contact our offices immediately to set up a free consultation and ensure your constitutional rights are protected.  

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