Consequences of Guilty Plea in DUI/DWI Cases

Consequences of Guilty Plea in DUI/DWI Cases

The first suspension in most drunk driving cases is the Administrative License Suspension (ALS). The ALS takes place immediately upon refusal to submit to the driving under the influence (DUI) tests, or upon testing over the state limit (usually .08) for breath. The ALS is usually handled by the state's department of motor vehicles before an administrative judge, not a criminal judge. If a motorist enters a guilty plea at this level, the motorist's license is typically suspended for a statutory time period.

The next stage of a DUI offense (or DWI/OUI) involves the criminal justice system. If the offender pleads guilty to the DUI, he or she will be sentenced according to the governing DUI statute. A guilty plea has the same effect as losing at trial. It results in a criminal conviction. The penalties will depend upon whether or not the offender has prior offenses. It is important to recognize that for purposes of enhanced penalties, prior guilty pleas will be considered prior convictions. In the average first offense DWI case, the sentence usually includes a jail sentence which may be suspended, one to two years of supervised probation, a fine, court costs, community service, alcohol abuse screening, and mandatory driver improvement training. There is, of course, always the possibility in an egregious or unusual case in which the judge will require some time in jail. A multiple offender will serve real jail time and risk prolonged suspension of his or her driver's license.

A guilty plea is made in open court in writing and there must be a determination on the record that the plea was made voluntarily, competently, and with understanding of the nature of the charge, of his/her legal and constitutional rights, and of the consequences of his/her action. In addition the court must determine if there is a factual basis for the plea. Occasionally, an offender may enter a guilty plea to take advantage of a plea bargain to a lesser or non-DUI offense. Some states have enacted plea-bargaining restrictions, while other states do not permit plea negotiations in specific circumstances, such as cases involving serious injury or death or where the offender had a very high blood alcohol content.

An OUI / DUI / DWI conviction plea of "guilty" will be a permanent part of the offender's driving record. Moreover, a guilty plea is reported to the state driver's license agency, which in turn, may report it to the National Driver's License Registry. These computer records are accessible to driver's licensing agencies nationwide. The home state of any non-resident driver will receive a notice of any case disposition occurring in the reporting state. In almost all cases a guilty plea in a criminal case will result in a license suspension in the non-resident's home state.