When Should You Plead Guilty?

I had an individual ask me today about a real dilemma he had, that he, unfortunately, solved through his own ignorance and laziness. He was stopped by an officer for a broken taillight, late at night. As is the norm for most nighttime stops, the man was given the roadside sobriety tests. He failed. He was then taken into jail, and blew in the breathalyzer. He decided to stay the night in jail and in the morning was brought to court. Before talking to the judge, the prosecutor showed the man the results of his breathalyzer. He blew a .09, and he plead guilty to Driving Under the Influence.

Now, I understand, you’re scared, you’re tired from spending the night on a cot, and that judge looks awful intimidating to be someone’s grandmother. But do yourself a favor: when they ask how do you plead, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS  answer , “not guilty.”

You can change your “not guilty” plea at any time. You’re even expected to plead not guilty at that first hearing.

You basically can’t change your “guilty” plea. You have to show, in short, mental incompetence. Either you’re still drunk or high, you don’t speak English, you have an IQ so low that you can’t understand what you’re doing, or something similar. And when you can change your guilty plea, it has to be done in a very short time. Usually ten days.

This individual had no mental handicap. He spoke English. And he waited twelve days before calling me. He is stuck with his guilty plea, even though he had a good chance of getting off. Now, the only options open to him are trying to get a lighter sentence, and trying to expunge his record (because now he has one).

So when should you plead guilty? Certainly not at your first hearing, and maybe never. At the very least, talk to a lawyer before you plead. Talk to multiple lawyers if that helps you. Talk to your friends, and examine all of the evidence the government has against you. Don’t give up your right to due process.

Your Rights at a DUI Stop: Sobriety Checkpoints and DUI Roadblocks

Sobriety checkpoints and DUI roadblocks are increasingly used to enforce DUI laws. The courts have found that if the police follow specific guidelines, a systematic checkpoint is constitutional. The police must follow certain roadblock guidelines and respect your individual rights.

If the guidelines set out by the courts are not followed, then the DUI arrest may be invalid. You should discuss with your attorney the process that you underwent regarding the arrest: from the initial stop, up until the arrest and Miranda Warnings.

What guidelines are there?

The United States Supreme Court case Michigan v. Sitz established many of the guidelines that police officers must follow in a roadblock or DUI checkpoint. Pennsylvania has established a number of other cases which largely follow these guidelines.

  • The police may not choose vehicles at random: The officers conducting the checkpoint musty have a pre-established neutral mathematical formula for which cars to stop. For example, officers may determine ahead of time that they will stop only every third car. This prevents potential discrimination by stopping individuals based on appearance.
  • Checkpoints must be established to ensure safety of police and the drivers: The roadblock must be highly visible to ensure time for stopping or slowing down to a safe speed. The roadblock must also be done in a way that minimizes the amount of time each driver is at a checkpoint.
  • You may turn around prior to the checkpoint: So long as you do not break any traffic laws or regulations, you have the right to turn around and take a different prior to being stopped at the checkpoint. That is, if you can turn off one block ahead of the actual checkpoint, you may do so to avoid the sobriety check.
  • The stop may not last long enough to constitute an unreasonable seizure of the person without reasonable suspicion: when a driver is stopped, the initial interaction with police may last only long enough to ask a few questions and determine reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion may include slurred speech, an odor of alcohol, glassy or bloodshot eyes. If the officer cannot cite reasonable suspicion within that brief initial meeting, the driver should be allowed to leave.
  • Sobriety Checkpoints and DUI Roadblocks are only permitted if they are planned and a part of an on-going safe driving program and the checkpoint follows established protocol: You should discuss with your attorney whether the protocol was established and if so whether a judge or a representative from the district attorney’s office participated in it.

The Supreme Court deemed that a car stopped at a roadblock is a seizure, but, if the purpose of the roadblock is to ensure the safety of all drivers, and the interaction is brief, then the seizure is not unreasonable. Sobriety Checkpoints are not meant to identify criminal behavior and are considered a part of regulatory law, not criminal law.

What are your rights?

As an individual faced with a Sobriety Checkpoint or a DUI Roadblock, you have certain rights. Your rights fall mainly under the Fourth Amendment, the right against unreasonable search and seizure. The government may not intrude beyond the point of a reasonable seizure.

A Sobriety Checkpoint must meet five criteria:

  1. Vehicle stops must be brief and may not entail a physical search
  2. There  must be sufficient warning of the stop prior to arrival and you have the right to avoid the DUI stop if you may do so lawfully
  3. Decisions for the checkpoint, time, conduct, etc. are subject to prior administrative approval
  4. Timing and placement of the checkpoint must be based on experience as to when and where intoxicated drivers have been found previously
  5. Decisions as to which vehicle to stop must be predetermined and is not to be left to officer discretion.

Knowing these rights ahead of time can help you when faced with a Sobriety Checkpoint or DUI Roadblock. If you believe that your rights have been violated, or that you have a challenge to the roadblock, please contact our office today for a free consultation.

First Time DUI’s and Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)

What is ARD?

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) is a system for first time DUI offenders under Pennsylvania law. The ARD program is an alternative to the criminal trial and is intended to allow the individual to avoid a lengthy trial and allow the defendant to continue his life, without jeopardizing the public.

ARD is very similar to probation, but at the end of successful completion of the ARD program, the defendant may have the DUI expunged from his record. Generally the supervisory period is two years and the defendant may not drink alcohol for a set amount of time. Other requirements, like employment or training programs, may also be imposed.

If you complete the ARD program successfully then you will have avoided jail time, a one year suspension of your driver’s license, and a criminal conviction, as well as other potential consequences.

Who is eligible and should I accept ARD?

Only first time offenders are eligible for the ARD program. The district attorney in charge of prosecution will make the decision regarding a specific person’s eligibility, but a judge has the final say on acceptance into the program. A request to be included in the program may be made to the district attorney by the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or any interested agency or institution. Not every first time offender is automatically accepted into the ARD program, but you and your attorney should discuss the possibility of the ARD program.

Even if you are a first time offender you will not be eligible for ARD if:

  • There was a serious injury to anyone other than yourself in the incident
  • Any fatality occurred in the incident
  • You had a child under the age of 14 in the vehicle at the time of the DUI stop

If you are not eligible for ARD, you will have to go through the criminal court system for the DUI.

Not everyone should accept the ARD program. Although it can be more expensive, sometimes a trial is a better option for defendants. The ARD program is like a get out of jail free card, it is not like a verdict of not guilty. If you are ever arrested for a second DUI, the system will treat you as a repeat offender.

For this reason, if you have a good chance of winning your DUI case on the merits, you should save your get out of jail free card. You need to discuss with your lawyer the options for the case, both ARD and trial. Remember, a not guilty verdict is far more valuable further down the road than a successful pass in the ARD program.

What happens when someone fails the ARD program?

Of course, all goes best when a defendant successfully completes the ARD program, and does not have another DUI problem. However, some do fail the ARD program. If a defendant fails to complete any part of the ARD program, the district attorney will seek to have you removed from the program. There are some due process issues involved with removal, discuss this with your lawyer if removal does seem like a possibility.

Issues often include:

  • Not attending supervision meetings
  • Failing to attend any mandated DUI school
  • Failing to pay any restitution
  • Otherwise violating any condition of the ARD program as ordered by the court

If you think you are in violation of any part of your ARD program, you should immediately call your lawyer. When a defendant is in violation of the ARD program, the defendant will have all original DUI charges reinstituted and the defendant will have to go to court. If you fail the ARD program you will be prosecuted on the original charges and if convicted you will be sentenced under the original DUI charge.

To read more black letter law about the ARD program, visit:  http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/234/chapter3/chap3toc.html.

If you have a problem with a DUI, or another issue in Pennsylvania, which you’d like to discuss with an experienced defense attorney, contact our office for a free consultation today.