I recently wrote a blog entitled: “Don’t Take Deferred Entry of Judgment at Arraignment”. It has received more views in the last year than any other article I wrote. The point of the article was simply to explain that short of going to trial and losing, there is absolutely no risk to plead not guilty and push a deferred entry of judgment case out toward trial in order to try and get it dismissed or reduced.
Deferred entry of judgment cases are not the only cases that fall into this category. Pleading not guilty can be beneficial in many other criminal charges including DUI, domestic battery, theft offenses and more. But this strategy must be employed intelligently and only after thorough discussion with your lawyer and evaluation of your case, including your specific charges, needs, jurisdiction and other factors.
First, when we go to arraignment, we find out the exact charges which our clients are facing. Once we know the charges, we can discuss with our clients, their actual exposure, or the maximum punishment they may be facing. We also often receive settlement offers at the arraignment stage. Once we know the possible punishment and we get a settlement offer, then we can make a risk assessment in the case. Is it worth the risk of losing the offer we have to try and get a better result later? After all, we never want to plead not guilty and risk putting our clients in a worse position unless there is a better than likely chance of ultimately getting them into a better position in the end.
For example, I recently represented a client charged with two open DUI’s. He was on probation for his 5th driving on a suspended license and both DUI’s including additional driving on a suspended license charges. I settled one of his DUI’s for a “no jail” settlement inclusive of the probation violation. The second offense was a better set of facts for us. There was a legal defense available and a problem of proof for the prosecution. The facts supported the argument that my client was drinking on the side of the road after he got a flat tire. Knowing that my client was facing two years in jail on the open case and the probation violation, we set the second case for trial. We ultimately settled it for an alcohol related reckless driving and no jail.
This was huge win for the client in both cases. It was also a huge risk for him in both cases. What we did was to balance the risks of losing big with the chance of winning big and ultimately decided upon a global strategy. We knew the first case was more of a risk for us and settled it early and safely. But, we also knew the second case was better for us, so we took the risk of pushing it out toward trial. The risk paid off and we walked away big winners.
In another case, my client was charged with a second DUI and in the new case his blood alcohol was a .26. This is over three times the legal limit. I did my investigation early on in the case and new that the one witness to the driving could not be found. I told my client what I thought and discussed the risks for him. We set the case for trial and the prosecutor thought I was crazy. He actually looked at me and said, “Do you really think you have a chance at winning this case?” Being the cocky guy that I am, I actually told the prosecutor that he didn’t have a witness to the driving. He insisted that he would have the witness for trial and we came back ready to begin trial. On the day set for trial the same prosecutor offered my client an alcohol related reckless driving. Knowing my client’s desired outcome in the case, I told my adversary that I thought my client might accept an exhibition of speed. We ultimately settled on an exhibition of speed and ten days of Cal-Trans for his probation violation. Oh, I forgot to tell you he was on probation for his prior DUI which had been in warrant status for failing to finish his prior alcohol school.
The moral to the story is that all cases need to be evaluated and handled on an individual basis. Every case and every client is different. Every lawyer is different too. Some are better and some are worse. Some work harder and some are lazier. As for me, I like to win. More importantly, I like to make my clients happy. By listening to my clients and hearing what they have to say, I am better able to achieve that goal more often. By understanding my clients’ needs and risk tolerances, I am better able to achieve successful outcomes in more of my cases. Whether the desired outcome is a dismissal or jail avoidance, whether it’s keeping a license or avoiding deportation, communication, knowledge and experience can help me get my client from a guilty plea at arraignment to a dismissal or reduction before trial.
If you have been charged with a crime or DUI and you want a lawyer who isn’t simply trying to take your money and hold your hand while they plead you guilty at arraignment, call an attorney who can help.
Call me, attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340 or
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