Most Georgia DUI cases are resolved with a settlement. In criminal law, a settlement is called a plea bargain.
What is not understood is that there are three different variations of how a case can be closed with a plea.
Negotiated Plea Agreement:
When both the State's attorney and defense counsel agree to the criminal acts committed and the appropriate punishment, we call that a negotiated plea.
A negotiated plea gives the accused certainty as to what will happen in court. Once presented in court, the judge can only accept or reject the agreement. If a judge decides to reject the plea agreement or add any additional Georgia DUI Penalties, the defendant has a right to withdraw the plea.
When someone wants to admit guilt, but cannot come to an agreement with the prosecutor insofar as punishment is concerned, they can enter into a non-negotiated plea.
A non-negotiated plea can carry either great risk or potentially high reward. Both sides present a summary of the case to the presiding judge. The prosecution argues everything they can in aggravation and then gives their sentencing recommendation.
The defense presents all of the evidence in mitigation. The defense may call family members or other character witnesses. Afterwards, defense counsel makes a sentencing recommendation.
The interesting thing is that the judge is not bound by either recommendation. The judge can give the accused any lawful sentence, and the punishment may be more than the prosecutor recommended or even less than the defense requested. As long as the sentence falls within the statutory authority of the court, it cannot be changed. As a result, non-negotiated pleas are rare.
There are several special pleas defendants can use in court. All cannot be covered, but two important ones are the No Contest Plea (NOLO) and the Alford Plea.
A nolo plea is where a person elects not to contest their charges and accept a punishment. The advantage of this plea is to settle their case without contesting it. In Georgia, the no contest plea is usually allowed in misdemeanor cases, mainly when they are traffic-related.
An Alford plea is a close cousin to the no contest plea. It is used in felony cases. In an Alford plea, a defendant chooses to accept a conviction for a crime while maintaining his or her innocence.
It may seem odd that a person would allow themselves to be convicted while claiming factual innocence. However, if a person is convinced they will be convicted at trial, due to unfair circumstances, such a person may choose to agree to a plea bargain to avoid the enhanced punishment that happens after a conviction.
No judge is required to accept a nolo plea or an Alford plea. For the most part, judges accept no contest pleas on misdemeanor or traffic cases. However, most judges will not accept an Alford plea.
Most judges feel, with good reason, that a person should admit guilt in a serious case. If a person maintains their innocence, then the jury should decide the case.
The most important thing is to never decide on how to handle a criminal case without first speaking to a Georgia DUI Defense Attorney.