I would like to share with you a recent success we had in a DUI…
With all of our clients, we make it a point to have discussed with them the future repercussions of a guilty or no contest plea in the case we are working on. In other words, assuming that we are not able to get our client’s case dismissed, we make sure that our clients know that successive DUI arrests can be treated very harshly, or, in a more complicated case, we give our client a “debriefing” about how their future may be effected by their conviction in their current case. We recently re-learned the importance of this in one of our client’s cases.
At first our client’s case seemed relatively simple: following some bad driving and a breath test that showed the presence of alcohol, our client was arrested for a misdemeanor DUI. The client hired us the day before the arraignment, and while she told us of her DUI arrest, she did not tell us that eight years earlier she had had a conviction for vehicular manslaughter. Under California Vehicle Code, section 23550.5, in that situation, the DA is able to charge the new DUI case as a felony DUI. It is strange, because, as I wrote, there is not much of the current DUI case that is out of the ordinary. Yet, the DA spent a lot of time and effort trying to send our client to state prison for two years!
The more we learned about the vehicular manslaughter case from eight years earlier, the more we annoyed we became at the fact that the attorney in that case never gave a debriefing to our client after her conviction for vehicular manslaughter. Granted, that attorney got a great deal in the manslaughter case – only 60 days in jail! At the close of that case, the attorney must have been too busy feeling good about this great result to give a debriefing to the client about any possible future DUI arrests. Emotions were probably very positive, and it would have been unpleasant to bring them down with talk of “what could happen if …”
When we prepared to go to the first court date (known as an arraignment) in this case, we told the client that we could handle the court date without her being with us in court. However, when we got to court, we were informed that the DA had charged this case as a felony DUI, thanks to the earlier conviction for vehicular manslaughter. Had our client appeared in court with us, she would have been remanded into custody right then and there.
Before the next court date, our client had to post a very high bail and appear for all future court appearances (the judge denied our PC 977 filing, which would have allowed our client to skip all but the first court appearance). Under the charges, our client was facing a maximum of three years in state prison!
In our later conversations with the client, it was clear that when she concluded her manslaughter case, she had no idea that if there were any DUI arrest within ten years that the new DUI could be charged as a felony. If I were in this woman’s shoes, knowing what I know about the court system and Vehicle Code section 23550.5, I would have been totally paranoid about being behind the wheel of a car with any amount of alcohol in my system.
With a lot of work, we settled our client’s case for a jail term that was a lot less than the three years maximum prison sentence, and after we concluded the case, we made sure to advise our client on what could happen if there is yet another DUI arrest within ten years.
But I cannot help but wondering what would have happened if, at the conclusion of her manslaughter case, her attorney back then had debriefed her on what truly horrible things could happen if there is a DUI arrest within the next ten years.
When a complicated case is over – especially if there is a great result – it is very tempting to celebrate, or sit back and feel relieved that “I missed a bullet this time.” But we will always give a good debriefing to our client as to what nightmarish scenarios could happen down the road if an arrest for a DUI or another charge happens. It may be a downer of a conversation, but it is extremely important.
It is also part of what you pay an attorney to do. Attorneys, unlike almost all of their clients, know the system, and attorneys have seen what can happen under certain scenarios. Non-attorneys don’t know all this, until it is too late.
So, if you have a complicated case that ends with a guilty or no contest plea, make sure that you get a good debriefing from whomever your attorney is. It could make a huge difference later on. This is something we make sure to do for our clients in every case.