Should I Enter a Plea of No Contest for a California DUI?
When a police officer arrests you for driving under the influence in California, you have the right to enter a plea before a judge. However, determining which plea is in your best interest depends on many factors. The best way to know how you should plea in California DUI cases is to talk with an experienced California DUI attorney.
A DUI lawyer can analyze the specific factors in your case and advise you on what plea you should enter for a California DUI charge. You should never enter a plea in a criminal case until you meet with a DUI lawyer for a free consultation.
Types of Pleas Under California Law for DUI Charges
When you go before a judge, they will ask you what plea you want to enter. Under California law, you can enter one of three types of pleas for DUI charges: guilty; not guilty; or no contest.
Pleading “guilty” means that you are admitting guilt and a certain level of responsibility for the crime which you are charged. A guilty plea means that you will agree to accept the sentence that the judge orders without fighting the charges in court.
Pleading “not guilty” means that you do not admit to any wrongdoing. A not guilty plea maintains your claim of innocence and forces the prosecution to prove you committed the legal elements of the charges they are bringing against you.
Finally, a plea of “no contest” is neither a guilty or not guilty plea. However, it can have the same consequences as a guilty plea, even though you are not admitting guilt.
Should I Say Guilty or Plead No Contest When I Am in Court for DUI?
Ideally, you want an experienced DUI attorney to represent you when you are in court for charges related to driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Your attorney will be able to advise you whether you should plead no contest, guilty, or not guilty when you appear before the judge for your initial hearing. Your plea is important because it occurs at the initial hearing and determines what happens next in your case.
What Happens If I Plead Guilty to a DUI in California?
If you plead guilty to a DUI in California, the court schedules a sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, the prosecution may offer evidence for enhanced sentencing. Enhanced sentencing usually means that aggravating factors involved in your DUI arrest could justify a harsher sentence than the bare minimum. Aggravating factors may include:
- Driving with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .15% or higher;
- Traveling at excessive speeds;
- Having a minor under the age of 14 years old in the vehicle with you;
- Underage driving (meaning the intoxicated driver is under 21 years old);
- Prior DUI conviction or a felony DUI conviction;
- DUI causing injury or death; and
- Refusing to submit to a chemical test.
The type of enhanced penalty you receive for a DUI guilty plea depends on the circumstances of the aggravating factors and your criminal record. Before you plead guilty to DUI, contact a Southern California DUI lawyer for a free consultation. Not only will an experienced attorney be able to help you navigate the judicial process, but they may also be able to help you apply a DUI defense to fight the drunk driving charges.
What Does a No-Contest Plea Mean in a DUI Case? Is It Better than Pleading Guilty?
A plea of no contest is the standard way of saying a plea of nolo contendere. When you plead no contest in a DUI case, it means you give up your right to defend yourself against the charges in criminal court. You do not admit that you were driving under the influence, but you agree to accept the sentence given by the judge without fighting the charges.
Whether a plea of no contest is better than a guilty plea depends on the specific facts of your case. Giving up your right to defend yourself without first consulting an experienced SoCal DUI attorney is never wise.
Why Is No Contest Better than a Guilty Plea?
Entering a plea of no contest can be better than pleading guilty in some cases. However, because a plea of no contest moves your case directly to the sentencing phase, it is best to talk with a California DUI attorney to weigh the pros and cons of entering no contest pleas in DUI cases.
Benefits Of Pleading No Contest
The main benefit of pleading no contest to a crime is that it can prevent a DUI conviction from being used against you in civil court. For example, if you caused a car accident while driving under the influence of alcohol, pleading guilty to the DUI charge automatically provides an admission that you were intoxicated when causing the crash. This leaves the door open for possible injury victims to sue you for damages. Simply put, a guilty plea may can be used as evidence against you in any possible subsequent civil lawsuits.
However, if you plead no contest, you are not admitting that you were under the influence at the time of the car crash. Instead, you only waive your right to defend yourself against the DUI charges.
Another benefit of pleading no contest as part of a DUI plea deal is avoiding a potentially embarrassing and stressful DUI trial. It can also be more cost-effective to enter a no contest plea as part of a negotiated DUI plea bargain.
When to Plead No Contest
After discussing your case with an experienced California DUI lawyer, you may want to plead no contest if you are unsure of your ability to be acquitted should your case go to trial. If the prosecution has a strong case, you might want to consider entering a plea of no contest to avoid the trial and conviction. Again, this is a serious decision that is best made with the advice of an experienced Southern California DUI attorney.
The most common reason individuals enter a plea of no contest is to avoid a guilty verdict or plea being used against them in a civil lawsuit. Accident victims often wait until after the criminal case settles to proceed with a personal injury lawsuit so they can use possible guilty pleas or verdicts as evidence of your responsibility for causing the car accident.
However, pleas of no contest to felony DUI offenses can still be used against you in a civil lawsuit. Therefore, if you face felony DUI charges, pleading no contest might not be your best option unless there are other compelling reasons to give up your right to fight DUI charges in California.
When You Should Not Plead No Contest for a DUI Charge
One of the main foundations of the American judicial system is that citizens accused of crime are always considered innocent until proven guilty. This means that the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty before you can be punished for a felony crime. You also have the right to defend yourself against criminal charges by the presentation of evidence, testifying on your own behalf, calling witnesses, and cross-examining witnesses.
If you enter a no contest plea, you give up your rights to defend yourself through the methods mentioned above. Therefore, you must consider all the advantages and disadvantages of pleading no contest to DUI charges before going forward.
Drawbacks of Pleading No Contest in Most California DUI Cases
The potential drawbacks of entering no contest pleas for drunk driving offenses include:
- Giving up your right to defend yourself in court;
- Accepting the fact that you will have a criminal record;
- Submitting to DUI penalties by the judge without contest; and
- Living with the collateral consequences of a DUI conviction.
You should not enter a no contest plea if you or your experienced SoCal DUI attorney believe you can win your DUI case. Another consideration to keep in mind is the judge presiding over your case. For example, some judges may view pleading guilty early as a sign of remorse, which could impact your DUI sentence.
Therefore, if you believe you cannot beat the charges and the DUI did not result in injury, you might not want to enter a no contest plea. Instead, you may want to enter a guilty plea as part of a negotiated plea deal.
How to Challenge DUI Charges in Los Angeles, Orange County, and Riverside County
Challenging Southern California DUI charges begins by investigating the DUI stop and arrest. An experienced SoCal DUI attorney will analyze the evidence gathered by the police and investigate the arrest. Doing so allows them to determine whether the police officers had reasonable suspicion and probable cause for your traffic stop and/or DUI arrest.
Your criminal defense attorney may also employ other tactics such as challenging the results from chemical tests, roadside breathalyzers, and field sobriety tests. There are numerous ways to challenge blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) results. Procedural errors, police misconduct, environmental factors, and a driver’s health condition are all examples of factors with the ability to impact the reliability and accuracy of breath tests, blood tests, and other evidence.
Consequences of a DUI Conviction in Southern California
The consequences of a DUI conviction can be severe. Even a first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction could result in jail time and significant fines. Repeat offenses and felony DUI convictions could result in prison sentences. If you enter a guilty plea or a no contest plea for DUI charges, you could face:
- Suspended driver’s license;
- Revocation of driving privileges;
- Jail time or prison sentence;
- Three to five years of DUI probation;
- Fines and assessments totaling thousands of dollars;
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (“IID”); and
- Attendance at DUI school and other DUI programs.
In addition to the criminal penalties, a DUI conviction has collateral consequences such as:
- Higher insurance premiums;
- Problems with child custody and visitation;
- Difficulty finding employment;
- Suspension or revocation of a professional licenses;
- Loss of federal student aid eligibility; and
- Ineligibility for some government programs.
This list is not exhaustive; there may be other consequences of a DUI conviction in California not listed above. The good news is that an experienced California DUI lawyer can help you fight a DUI charge or negotiate an acceptable plea deal.
Negotiating a Plea Deal
Pleading guilty or no contest usually results from a negotiated DUI plea bargain. Your lawyer uses the evidence in your case and mitigating factors to negotiate with the prosecution for reduced charges and penalties.
For example, first-time DUI offenses can often be pled down to a wet reckless charge, which can reduce your DUI sentence. Your attorney may also be able to negotiate a plea of no contest so that you do not need to admit you were driving under the influence, which can benefit you if you hold a professional license.
Contact a Southern California DUI Attorney for a Free Consultation
Were you arrested for driving under the influence in California? If so, contact our SoCal DUI lawyers for a free consultation to discuss how we can help you fight DUI charges.
Talk To A DUI Defense Attorney
An experienced attorney can evaluate your case and discuss your options with you. A lawyer serving DUI clients will often offer a free no obligation consultation and everything discussed is protected by the attorney client relationship.
Schedule a free consultation with one of our expert California DUI attorneys here.
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