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Drink driving: How to avoid a harsh sentence

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Introduction

Motorists know that the consequences of conviction can be severe ranging from an immediate prison sentence, for the most serious offences, to community penalties, for the middle range of offences, to fines, for the least serious offences.  However, all carry the stigma of a criminal record and convicted Defendants are disqualified from driving for a minimum of 1 year (and often for much longer).  Consequently, the initial reaction of many who are charged for this offence is to panic and to search for a lawyer who sounds optimistic about the chances of an acquittal.  However, panicking rarely pays dividends; instead what is needed is a calm and considered approach to determine the best way to proceed.  Of course, if a Defendant is innocent then nothing should stop him or her from pleading ‘Not Guilty’.

Factors to consider if charged with Drink Driving

Motorists who have never been in this position before are understandably fearful.  They might face loss of job or other serious consequences in their work and / or personal life.  The fear of conviction and its potential consequences often cause them to decide their next steps in a rush just when a calm and considered approach is required.   The first and most important question is whether to admit or deny the offence.  Of course, nothing set out in this article can take the place of formal legal advice based upon the actual evidence in any given case. However, the following points should be bourne in mind.

Credit for the Plea

If you plead ‘Not Guilty’ and are convicted of the offence following a trial you will not receive the ‘credit’ for the ‘Guilty’ plea that is reserved for those who admit the offence by pleading ‘Guilty’.  In other words, those who plead ‘Guilty’ are sentenced less severely than those who are found ‘Guilty’ following a trial.  In a serious case the credit for the ‘Guilty’ plea could be the difference between an immediate and a suspended sentence of imprisonment, or, for example, between a sentence of imprisonment and a community penalty.  Although, in theory, the length of disqualification is the same regardless of plea, in practice, defence submissions on behalf of those who plead ‘Guilty’ tend to be viewed more favourably which often results in shorter periods of disqualification.

Legal Costs

Most Defendants do not receive legal aid in drink drive cases.  Most do not wish to defend themselves in court; they want a lawyer to represent them.  If a case is contested and goes to trial this means there will be a lot more work for the defence lawyers. The consequences are that the legal fees to contest cases are usually far higher than in cases in which there is an early ‘Guilty’ plea.  If your lawyer is encouraging you to plead ‘Not Guilty’ you should ensure that you fully understand the reasons for the advice.

Duration of Proceedings

In the case of a ‘Guilty’ plea the Defendant will usually be sentenced and the case concluded at the first hearing.  If a ‘Not Guilty’ plea is entered the Defence will have to disclose its defence at the first hearing and the court will make directions with which each side must comply in order to ensure that each side has a fair opportunity to present its case.  The trial will not take place at the first hearing.  When the trial does take place the Defendant will, in most cases, give evidence on oath in court and will be subject to cross -examination ie the Defendant will have to answer the prosecution questions in open court.  Not all Defendants are well equipped to face such a stressful ordeal.  Are you?  Of course, there is always the option of declining to give evidence at all.  You should ask yourself how this would be likely to affect your chances of a favourable outcome.

Conclusion

Nothing should stop you from pleading ‘Not Guilty’ if you are innocent.  Nothing can take the place of formal and considered legal advice based upon the particular circumstances of any given case.  You are entitled to plead ‘Not Guilty’ if you believe the police will not be able to prove their case.  However, do take care to carefully consider relevant factors realistically before you make your decision as to how to plead.  You will know if you were drinking and driving.  Whilst a way can usually be found to contest even the strongest of cases doing so is often not in the interests of the Defendant.  In cases in which the evidence is strong, although unpalatable, it may be in the interests of the Defendant to calmly consider all the options carefully including whether to plead ‘Guilty’.

 

If you are unsure of how you wish to proceed you are most welcome to call.  There is no charge for an initial telephone discussion.

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