Judge tosses DUI plea bargain after defendant late to court

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Plea bargains are a common method of resolving criminal cases in Florida. Prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys appreciate the certainty and efficiency of plea bargains, and defendants may be able to escape more serious penalties by accepting a plea agreement and a reduced sentence. In one recent case in Florida, however, a defendant's behavior in court prompted the judge to vacate the plea deal she had accepted.

The defendant was several hours late in appearing in court for sentencing under the plea bargain. When the judge began to ask routine questions, the woman cried, appeared unwilling to accept the agreement, and began to ask when she could ask to be released. The judge issued several warnings, finally telling her to "act like a grown up." When she appeared to be close to expressing acceptance of the plea deal, the woman began to criticize her former attorney.

The judge had enough. She vacated the prior plea agreement, which called for a four-year incarceration, and ordered the woman to stand trial on charges of aggravated DUI in December. If convicted, the woman could face seven years in prison because another person was seriously injured in the crash.

The woman in this case is still entitled to the presumption of innocence, but if she is convicted, the judge has discretion to increase the period of incarceration. Plea bargains always require defendants and their attorneys to weigh the uncertainty of waiting on the jury's verdict against the certainty of the plea bargain. In this case, the defendant appears to have had last minute second thoughts about her decision, and she must now wait another six months to learn her fate. Those who find themselves considering whether or not to accept a plea bargain should carefully consider discussing the matter with a criminal defense attorney of their choosing.

Source: Miami Herald, "In DUI crash that maimed principal, judge pulls plea deal after driver late to court," David Ovalle, July 21, 2017

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