In DWI cases, many defendants make the decision to try to negotiate a plea agreement. Before you make this choice, however, you need to be aware of some key facts. First, prosecutors are often not providing comprehensive information to defendants about the full consequences associated with accepting a plea and getting a conviction on their record. Second, prosectors may have a constitutional duty to turn over exculpatory evidence during the plea bargaining phase- but this issue has not yet been decided on a national level.
The plea bargaining process can be rife with complications, but once you admit guilt and accept the deal, you will have to face the penalties and you'll likely be left with a criminal record. Before you decide to take a deal being offered to you, be sure to talk with an attorney experienced in DWI defense to find out if there are options for avoiding conviction altogether.
Defendants Need to be Fully Informed When Making a Plea Deal
According to Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, many prosecutors who negotiate plea agreements with defendants only disclose what they are required to: the criminal penalties the defendant will face as part of the deal. Prosecutors do not explain the fact the "full force of a criminal conviction is only felt and known after the most immediate consequences."
In other words, whatever jail sentence, fines, and criminal penalties you face which prosecutors explain to you when negotiating a plea deal are just the tip of the iceberg. There are extra-juidical consequences associated with accepting a plea deal, which can include limited career prospects, higher car insurance costs, and even lack of access to government programs, depending upon what specific offense you are convicted of.
While prosecutors have limited constitutional obligations to explain non-criminal consequences, such as in certain cases where a guilty verdict for a crime could affect immigration status and lead to deportation, there is usually no specific requirement for a prosecutor to explain all the non-criminal consequences a guilty verdict can trigger.
Before you accept a plea, you need to fully understand exactly what the deal will mean for you and what the long-term impact of your decision will be.
You also need to make sure there is no exculpatory evidence being withheld from you. In Brady v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court established the Brady Rule requiring prosecutors turn over exculpatory evidence to defendants. In other words, if there is some evidence that calls into question whether you broke the law, prosecutors have to give it to you during the discovery phase leading up to trial.
Because plea deals are negotiated early in the process, however, it is not necessarily clear if prosecutors always have to disclose exculpatory evidence in the plea negotiation phase. Washington Post reported a West Virginia court held a prosecutor did have to disclose exculpatory evidence, and some other courts which have addressed the issue including the Second Circuit, Eighth Circuit, and Ninth Circuit have also required disclosure.
However, since there are circuit splits and there's no national rule, it is not always guaranteed prosecutors will make disclosures. A petition has been filed to ask the Supreme Court to make a decision on a case called Charles Ray Hooper v. United States, so hopefully the law will soon become clearer and DWI defendants will at least be able to count on prosecutors sharing information that could absolve them when they are negotiating a plea.