If you have been charged with a drunk-driving offense in D.C. for the first time, do not make a bad situation worse by blindly pleading guilty. This advice applies even if pleading guilty seems like the honorable decision. You might reason that
You might reason that usually, when you make a poor decision, you own up to it, take responsibility, and change your behavior. This impulse might be reinforced when well-intentioned friends and family urge you to plead guilty and hope for mercy. After all, you won’t have to face the stress and uncertainty of a trial, and you can hold out hope that maybe the judge will go easy on you if you’re sincerely repentant and promise to change.
The problem with this approach is that ignores the reality of DUI prosecutions in the District of Columbia. Specifically, if you plead guilty, you aren’t really throwing yourself on the mercy of the court—the terms of the plea bargain will be set by the Office of the Attorney General. The OAG does not give any credit for a guilty plea. If you plead guilty, you will face probation, mandatory alcohol counseling, and community service. If you don’t plead guilty but are convicted anyway, you will still face probation, mandatory alcohol counseling, and community service. Not a great deal.
It is especially problematic to enter a guilty plea when you have no way of evaluating the state’s case against you. If you don’t know:
-whether the police had a constitutional basis to detain you in the first place, -whether they administered the roadside field sobriety tests properly,
-whether they recorded the results of the field tests,
-whether they actually took the time to record their observations of your behavior and appearance
-whether they properly obtained your consent for chemical testing,
-whether they administered the chemical tests in compliance with Constitutional precedent and D.C. law
-whether any evidence proffered by the prosecution can be excluded
-whether any testimony offered by the police can be undermined
-whether there are any witnesses to establish your side of the story then it would be extremely ill-advised to make a decision before speaking to an experienced DUI attorney.
It’s true that there may be situations where the case against you is strong enough that accepting a guilty plea is the right decision. But you won’t know that unless an experienced DUI attorney has evaluated the facts of your case.
Finally, you should reject any suggestion that that there’s something dishonorable about asserting your right to a fair trial. When you assert your right to be free from unreasonable searches, and to have a fair trial, you are participating in a process that the Framers protected in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, specifically to safeguard against government overreach. There is nothing wrong in making the government prove the charges it has brought against you.