Sunday, October 11, 2009

Reckless Endangerment can be a DUI Plea Bargain

By Jon Scott Fox | October 10, 2009

A DUI conviction carries a mandatory sentence include mandatory jail, fines, alcohol evaluation/treatment and more, that the judge is required by law to impose, with rare exceptions. In addition, the Department of Licensing imposes mandatory license suspension and ignition interlock requirements upon receiving notice that a driver has been convicted of DUI. A person charged with DUI benefits from a reduction of a DUI charge to a “lesser charge” since the reduction usually avoids most of the mandatory penalties that come with a DUI conviction.

Today’s prosecutors are generally reluctant to offer a reduction of a DUI charge unless the defense lawyer can show the prosecutor that there are significant factual or legal issues that imperil the prosecutor’s ability to prove the case. As a result it may agreed that the DUI charge will be amended to a different charge such as Reckless Endangerment. This compromise benefits both the prosecution and the defense.

Although no mandatory jail is required upon a conviction for Reckless Endangerment, the judge always has discretion to impose any sentence that the judge deems appropriate – up to a $5,000 fine and one year in jail. Typically the judge will “suspend” some or all of the jail time upon required conditions that generally track conditions of probation imposed upon a DUI conviction – lawful behavior, alcohol evaluation and follow up, abstinence from alcohol (where recommended by the evaluation), probation, etc.

Violation of any of these conditions of probation can result in the judge imposing the balance of the jail or fine. In addition, a reduction to Reckless Endangerment, will be treated as a “prior offense” that will increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be imposed in the event of subsequent DUI arrest and conviction within seven years of the arrest in the current case.

This is because the legislature has recognized the practice, where appropriate, of amending a DUI charge to a different charge with different sentencing options. See RCW 46.61.5055(13)(v). The accused also benefits from a reduction to Reckless Endangerment. There is no mandatory jail time, license suspension or “high risk” insurance required by virtue of a conviction for Reckless Endangerment and it is not a driving offense (however, remember that this will not affect any “administrative suspension” of the license already imposed by the DOL.)

Although the prevailing public opinion likely disfavors any reduction of charges when a citizen is charged with DUI, a reduction to Reckless Endangerment is recognition by the prosecution and the defense that each side has a risk of losing if the matter proceeds through full litigation and thus, each side is willing to accept a reasonable compromise.

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