Sentencing hearings in a DUI case involves more than just potential penalty ranges. Of course, the potential penalty ranges have to be known and understood. But a range is just the possibility of a minimum or more than minimum sentence the opportunity to influence that lies at every step in the case.
Answering Associates, LLC to begin preparing every case not only for the fight to win it also to put our clients in the best light possible should we stand before a judge facing sentencing. The time to start preparing for sentencing is not the night before. Preparing for sentencing starts much earlier in the case. Various factors like the clients previous record, the facts surrounding this particular charge, how the client appears on video, how the client treated the arresting officer, and many other factors are looked at.
Generally speaking, if the client has a high tier test, a prior offense, or is under the age of 21 we recommend that they get an alcohol assessment. An alcohol assessment can help the case in several ways. First it helps us in the negotiation process with the prosecutor. Second it helps in the mitigation phase, should we need. Even though the goal is to always beat the DUI charge–it would be a disservice to our clients to not be properly prepared for all potential contingencies– and that includes sentencing. Proper case planning involves obtaining the evidence, evaluating the case, and being realistic about expectations.
Imagine you’re the judge. Before you stands and individual accused of DUI who has either entered into a plea or been convicted after trial. On a first offense you have the option of giving this person the minimum sentence of three days in a driver’s intervention program up to the maximum of six months in the county jail.
What do you do? If the person that stands before you has been properly prepared to provide an honest and heartfelt statement about their actions, has taken the initiative of having an alcohol assessment and either received a recommendation of no treatment needed or completed the recommended treatment, and has otherwise put themselves in a light most favorable to the court are you more inclined as the sentencing judge to give than the minimum? Our experience is that the answer to that question is almost always yes.
Another aspect of sentencing is to consider what the judge’s expectations are. A perfect example is the sentencing that I conducted today. In that case the particular client was going over 90 miles an hour during daytime traffic, appeared to be highly intoxicated, was a high tier DUI meaning that her chemical test result was above .170, and was rude and belligerent to the officer to the point where she was charged with persistent disorderly conduct for interfering with his DUI investigation.
Through our factual investigation and negotiations with the prosecutor, I was able to get the charge reduced from a high tier to a low tier DUI and to have the speeding violation in the criminal charge dismissed.
The officer in this case had written a six page report. The absolute longest report I have ever seen in a DUI case. He broke down the client’s uncooperativeness and belligerence in over 20 paragraphs. Detailing all of the curse words that she used, the names that she called him, her failure to follow instructions, and how she interfered with his investigation. I knew that in this particular court the judge would read that report. My concern was that no matter how sorry she said she was that the judge could give her a pretty harsh sentence.
As a result, we had the client preregister for the drivers intervention program, come to court prepared to pay all fines and costs in full, and have an alcohol assessment done. After speaking carefully with the client about what to say and how to act, we entered into the plea and proceeded with sentencing.
Not only did the judge say on the record and in open court that our client had an excellent attorney for the recommendations made, he gave her the minimum sentence. If there was any case in recent time that could have received more than the minimum sentence– it was this one. But because the client was properly prepared, was genuinely remorseful, and followed our advice – she walked out of the courthouse. I don’t tell this story to pat myself on the back, I tell this story to emphasize the importance of proper preparation.
Knowing the court, knowing the judge, knowing the judges expectations and how to address them, can make all the difference between going to jail and going home. Ultimately the decision as to what the sentence is falls on the judge. What falls on the attorney’s shoulders is to have the knowledge, the experience, and to guide the client properly to put them in the best light possible to receive the least serious sentence possible.