The vast majority of Michigan criminal cases, as well as Macomb County criminal and drunk driving cases, are handled by plea bargains.
1. What is a Plea Bargain?
A plea bargain in a Michigan criminal case is a “deal” made with a prosecutor and defendant’s attorney. The defendant’s attorney is skilled to seek the best bargain or agreement to a lesser offense or to receive a less severe punishment. In exchange, the defendant will plead guilty pursuant to the agreement and give up his or her right to a jury trial to defend himself against the original crime charged. For example, most first offense Michian Drunk Driving cases (OWI) can be plead down to Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI). This plea bargain is quite common and the vast majority of first offense drunk driving cases are resolved in this fashion.
2. What if No Plea Bargain Is Offered?
In some Michigan Courts, there may be a no plea bargain policy, or no reduction policy. Anyone who has been charged with an Oakland County criminal case can tell you that plea bargaining is not always an option. A criminal defendant may be faced with the decision to plead guilty as charged or take his chance at trial. The defendant will have to consider whether the facts are weighed in favor of the police and the defendant’s case will actually sound worse to the Judge and Jury if the case goes to trial. In addition, if an injured victim is involved, a defendant may not want the Judge or Jury to see and hear the drama and extent of injury caused to a victim which is attributed to the defendant’s drunk driving case. On the other hand, if a defendant pleads guilty, the police are usually not present and the Judge does not usually see and hear all of the aggravating circumstances and graphic details of the case. Michigan crime victims are always notified and allowed to be present and speak at the time of sentencing even if the defendant pleads guilty.
3. At What Stage of A Case is a Plea Bargain Made?
A plea bargain may be made at any time after someone is charged and even during trial before a verdict is reached. In Michigan, a plea bargain is usually discussed at the first pretrial conference at district court. However, the defendant’s attorney will want to review all of the police reports and evidence before entertaining a plea bargain. A defendant’s attorney has a duty to present all plea bargains and offers to his client. A defendant’s attorney should never reject a plea bargain until it is fully explored and explained to his client.
4. Do Plea Bargains Expire?
A plea bargain can expire and you may lose your right to cut a deal. A plea bargain expiration date can be a game that your attorney knows how to play. As long as the expiration of a plea is not mandated by statute or court rule, a plea bargain or offer can remain open as long as the prosecutor is willing to keep it open. This means that in most cases, prosecutors can put an expiration date on a plea to attempt to force you to make a decision. The prosecutor may say that an offer is not available the day before trial, after the last pretrial conference or before any motions are filed. Your attorney may know how to play this cat and mouse game and allow a plea to expire which could result in the prosecutor coming back with a better deal. Of course, it could go bad for a defendant as well. Local defense attorneys have a better instinct of how much room might be left in any criminal or drunk driving plea bargain.
5. How do Attorneys Get Better Deals in Michigan Drunk Driving Cases?
Attorneys consider many relevant variables which may allow us to obtain a plea bargain in a drunk driving case. A case may have valid legal issues such as legality of the traffic stop and/or issues regarding administration of alcohol testing equipment. A client may have witnesses who will testify as to the defendant’s sobriety immediately before operating his or her vehicle. I always review the strengths and weaknesses of every case and the benefits and burdens of a plea bargain. A plea bargain may occur at a pretrial conference. In many of my Macomb County drinking and driving cases, I have filed motions and scheduled one or more hearings to attack and weaken the prosecutor’s case before trial. This strategy can work if there was an improper traffic stop or if there were errors in the administration of the breath test. When an attorney can procure a plea bargain to a non-drinking offense, such as careless driving, the defendant may want to cut his or her losses and take the deal rather than run the risk of an OWI conviction at trial.
Before entering any kind of plea it is highly recommended that you at least consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.