Recently I met with someone who asked me a question that I get on a fairly regular basis, so I thought I would post my response here. The question was, well I guess it was more of a half statement and half question. Essentially it was, "My friend got a DUI. He had a similar breath test, we did the same on the field sobriety tests, and he had never been in trouble before and he got a certain plea deal. Can I get the same deal?"
As I said above I get this question fairly often. From possible clients, to actual clients, to fellow lawyers asking my opinion about a case, or even curious friends. It seems everyone knows someone who got a certain plea deal, or they have a friend of a friend who got a plea deal, and they had the same facts and breath test. So the logical inference would be can they get the same deal if not better. In felony land there is something called sentencing guidelines that outline what certain offenses carry as far as sentences. But unfortunately DUI land, no case is the same. There are just too many variables.
For example lets consider two DUI cases in two different jurisdictions both with a .14 breath test, and the both where the defendant has no criminal history. You would think there would be some uniformity in Washington state where both those cases would get resolved in the same manner in terms of plea deal, sanctions, etc. But even with those stats of .14 breath test, no criminal history, the case can be dramatically different both in terms of evidence, and the end result. Why is that?
Well first if they occurred in different jurisdictions then you're dealing with two separate courts, two separate Prosecutors, basically two separate everything. In other words I have appeared in most Courts in Western Washington and even several in Spokane County. I can tell you there no two Courts that are the same. Some courts have different types of plea deals. Some courts have different "sentencing guidelines" when it comes to DUIs. Additionally there are no two Prosecutors who are the same. Different philosophies on negotiating, different caseloads, different relationships, etc. All of these ultimately factor into the end result.
Another huge difference in those two DUI cases of a .14 I used as an example would be the evidence. From the reason for the stop, to the signs of impairment noted by the arresting officer inside the vehicle, to the performance on the field sobriety tests, to any statements made by the driver. All of these factor into a resolution for a DUI case, and I would be willing to go out on a limb here and say no two cases are exactly the same when you look at those factors. Even if both cases ended a .14 breath test.
And lastly would be who the arresting officer was. In my career I have seen officers who are absolutely horrible in their investigation, administration of the field sobriety tests and breath tests, and in their documentation of the arrest. Likewise I have seen officers who conduct a thorough investigation, who administered the field sobriety tests and breath tests by the book, and who wrote a 7 page police report documenting every little thing they observe. Now let me ask you this. Who is more likely to have the better case from a Defense perspective? The officer who did everything by the book, and thoroughly documented everything. Or the officer who didn't do anything correctly, and only wrote a 2 paragraph police report that is inconsistent, and holes in it.
So in the end what do I tell those people that ask this question. Well I try to explain exactly what I wrote above. That no two cases are the same, that there are too many variables, etc. But what I can tell them is in my experience if an individual has never been in trouble before, they weren't involved in a serious car accident, they don't have an extremely high breath test, and they were somewhat polite with the officer then in those cases Prosecutors seem to be more lenient and receptive to the idea of reducing a DUI charge.
Matthew A. Leyba is a DUI lawyer in Seattle, WA. His practice focuses on representing those accused of DUI and other serious traffic offenses. If you have been arrested for DUI contact our office immediately to ensure your constitutional rights are protected.