The Devil is in the Details: Deferred Sentencing Agreements in Washington, D.C. Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Cases
In general, plea offers made in Washington, D.C. DUI cases aren’t worth the paper they‘re printed on. They essentially consist of inviting the DUI defendant to plead guilty to DUI. For a first offense without an elevated blood alcohol content or the presence of illegal drugs, the prosecutor almost always indicates that they will be seeking probation. That’s great, since no one wants to go to jail, but in reality it’s very unlikely that a D.C. judge is going to impose jail time on a run-of-the mill first offense DUI, anyway. Therefore, a plea offer that has the DUI defendant pleading guilty to DUI and the government asking for probation, isn’t really much of a plea offer at all. It offers virtually no incentive for a defendant to plead guilty early in the case, and almost every serious DUI lawyer will urge his client to reject the plea and schedule the case for trial.
Occasionally, however, the facts of a particular D.C. DUI case are such that a plea agreement is worth seeking and/or considering. For a first time offender, the most desirable disposition may be what is called a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA). Offered only in certain cases, a DSA allows a DUI defendant to avoid a DUI conviction if he or she accomplishes the tasks outlined in the agreement. Usually this includes the completion of community service, a Victim Impact Panel, an Alcohol Safety Program, and a contribution to the Victim of Violent Crimes Fund. If the DUI defendant successfully completes everything, the case is dismissed.
There are several important things to know about a DSA in Washington, D.C. First, it requires a defendant to enter a plea of guilty to DUI. After the plea is accepted by the court, the case is continued for sentencing for one year. It is during this year that the DUI defendant will complete the requirements of the agreement. If successful, when the defendant returns to court after the year elapses, he is permitted to withdraw his guilty plea, and the government dismisses the DUI case. If the defendant fails to complete the tasks, or is rearrested within the year period, then he or she will be sentenced on the DUI, and will have a conviction.
DSA’s are only offered in a small percentage of cases, and often your Washington, D.C. DUI lawyer has to convince the prosecutor that your case merits such an offer. Since D.C. prosecutors are generally overburdened and therefore not always good communicators, this sometimes means multiple emails and phone calls are required from your DUI lawyer. In addition, a DSA is almost never available to defendants who refused the breath test or who blew over a .10. Finally, in almost no cases are defendants with previous DUI convictions eligible for this agreement.
Even if a DSA is offered to a Washington D.C. DUI defendant, you and your lawyer need to decide if this agreement is right for you. Although a defendant who successfully completes the agreement does not have a DUI conviction on her record, there still may be consequences. Depending on your occupation, the entry of a guilty plea (even if it is eventually withdrawn), may cause problems with your employer. In addition, if you are licensed to drive in the District of Columbia, the guilty plea may or may not trigger a driver’s license suspension. The D.C. DMV is inconsistent about when they do or do not issue a suspension, but I tell all of my DSA recipients to be aware of the possibility. Finally, failure to complete a DSA essentially means that you have plead guilty and been sentenced on a DUI. So defendants should think long and hard about whether they will be diligent enough to reap the benefit of the agreement.
Like with any plea agreement, whether to enter into a DSA requires an in-depth understanding of the facts of your case and the possible consequences of your decision.
While a DSA is a favorable outcome in most DUI cases, each DUI defendant’s personal circumstances are different. To speak with an experienced Washington, D.C. DUI lawyer, contact Jay Mykytiuk at JPMLegal for a free in-office consultation.