Monday, June 28, 2010

Plea bargains in DWI cases? Are you serious?

Yes, Virginia, the Harris County DA's Office does offer plea bargains on DWI cases -- even felony DWI cases. Last week KPRC-TV ran a story about plea agreements in felony DWI cases in Harris County -- like it was something out of the ordinary. I hate to be the one to break it to MADD, but there have been plea bargains since the day Cain stoned Abel.

I don't know the exact percentage of cases at 1201 Franklin in which a person accused of a crime pleads guilty, or no contest, in exchange for a reduced charge or reduced sentence; but when I was in law school we were told that upwards of 90% of all cases are resolved without a trial -- that means plead out or dismissed.

Most DWI prosecutions are based solely on the arresting officer's opinion -- not on any scientific grounds. If there is no breath or blood test then it comes down to whether the officer thinks the motorist is intoxicated based on his observations of the motorist or the motorist's performance on police coordination exercises. In those cases the video is often the determining factor in the jury's deliberations: if he looks drunk he'll be convicted, if he doesn't, he'll be acquitted.

Most prosecutors believe that it's better to get the conviction regardless of the sentence. That conviction can then be used down the road to enhance an offense should a motorist be hauled back into court. Of course some of those prior convictions aren't nearly as good as prosecutors thought they were at the time. There are quite a few that can't be used for enhancement purposes because of the language used on the judgments when the accused entered his or her plea. Then there are the thousands of cases involving convicted felon Dee Wallace, the disgraced former technical supervisor who filed false maintenance records for the breath test machines under her control.

It doesn't surprise me, though, that this story ran less than two weeks prior to the Fourth of July weekend -- fanning the flames surrounding the Bill of Rights as we head toward another No Refusal weekend.

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