Many Michigan DUI and other criminal cases are resolved through a process called plea bargaining. A plea bargain is what happens after your attorney discusses your case with the prosecutor and explains why it is appropriate to amend or reduce the charges you are facing with the court. You will be advised of any plea(s) offered by the prosecutor even if your lawyer doesn’t think you will accept the offer or if it’s in your best interest. This is because the rules of professional ethics applicable to criminal defense attorneys require all offers of settlement to be disclosed to you. Plea agreements are usually reached only after discovery is complete and all viable defenses to your DUI case have been thoroughly explored.
Making the Decision to Plead Guilty
In most instances, if you are pleading guilty it is because the prosecutor has offered to modify or “amend” the original charges in your case, usually by reducing them to something less serious, and you have indicated that you are willing to plead guilty to these amended or reduced charges in exchange for the prosecutor’s promise that the original more serious charges will be dismissed. This promise is reduced to a written motion sometimes called a plea agreement which will be signed by the prosecutor, your attorney, and the judge. Collectively, this process is called plea bargaining.
Before you are ready to plead guilty your case has usually moved through several other stages, including the arraignment and one or more pretrials. Also, depending on the nature of the charged and the strengths or weaknesses of the evidence, your lawyer may have filed one or more motions asking that evidence be suppressed, or even asking for the case to be dismissed. There also may have been one or more evidentiary hearings.
Along the way your lawyer will have reached out in writing, in person or by phone, and discussed possible resolution of your case. Before engaging in plea negotiations however, your lawyer may have asked you to obtain character letters or one or more psychological evaluations, such as a substance use assessment. These items can be provided to the prosecutor as part of the negotiations. Additional items that may be presented to the prosecutor include expert witness reports, reports from private investigators and/or the results of legal research that support a modification of the charges.
You should discuss possible plea bargains with your lawyer before he/she engaged with the prosecutor. This is because your attorney needs to know what to ask for and should be able to indicate to the prosecutor that you are willing to plead guilty to the amended charged. Few prosecutors are willing to make an offer unless they know you will be pleading guilty.
What Rights Am I Giving Up by Pleading Guilty?
The most serious thing you give up is your right to trial. There is always some modicum of risk associated with trial, and you should discuss these trial risks with your lawyer to. The Michigan DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm never recommend that our clients plead guilty unless the plea offer is of sufficient value to give up the right to trial. This is because by pleading guilty you are giving up your constitutional right to trial, and all the ancillary rights that go along with it.