When someone is charged with a crime, often their first instinct is to want to challenge the charges and prove their innocence at trial. However, taking a case to trial also creates the possibility of being sentenced to the most severe criminal penalties if the defendant is convicted. Sometimes a plea bargain that leads to lesser charges or penalties is a better option than taking a case to trial. Illinois law is designed to be tough on drunk driving, but there can be some beneficial plea bargain options in DUI cases.
If you have been charged with a DUI or have questions about a plea bargain that was offered to you, contact a Chicago criminal defense lawyer at O’Meara Law today at 312-909-0706.
Criminal DUI Penalties in Illinois
Illinois law provides for strict criminal penalties in DUI cases. A first offense DUI in Illinois is a Class A misdemeanor that is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. The criminal penalties to continue to escalate for repeat offenders. A second DUI conviction leads to a mandatory five days imprisonment or 240 hours of community service, and a third DUI conviction is considered a felony that is punishable by a prison sentence of not less than three years and not more than seven years.
Statutory Summary Suspensions in Illinois
While the severe criminal penalties for an Illinois DUI can have long-term consequences, the statutory summary suspension requirement often creates more immediate difficulties both personally and professionally. Under Illinois law, the driver’s license of an Illinois driver is automatically suspended if that driver is arrested for a DUI and fails or refuses to submit to chemical testing.
If a first-time offender fails a chemical test the automatic suspension is for six months and if the first-time offender refuses to submit to testing the automatic suspension is for 12 months. The driver’s license suspension becomes effective on the 46th day after the arrest, and the suspension operates completely independently from the criminal case.
Plea Bargains are an Option for DUI Cases
The penalties for DUI in Illinois are designed to punish drunk drivers with an automatic license suspension followed by strict criminal penalties. However, plea bargains can be an option for many DUI cases, especially with first-time offenders. Since the criminal penalties for a first offense do not include mandatory minimum jail sentences it may be possible to negotiate a plea bargain that does not include jail time. Additionally, there could be the possibility of pleading guilty to a lesser traffic offense that is punishable by only a fine.
Plea Bargains to Avoid a Statutory Summary Suspension
Even though a statutory summary suspension is designed to be automatic and independent of the criminal DUI charges, a 2014 investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that plea bargains have been made available that allow offenders to avoid a driver’s license suspension altogether. Under this particular type of plea bargain, the prosecution does not contest a defendant’s request for a judge to void the statutory summary suspension and then allows the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser offense that does not include a license suspension penalty. While not common, the Chicago Tribune’s investigation found that in 2011 up to 11 percent of DUI arrests in Cook County resulted in no loss of a driver’s license and the percentage climbed to over 20 percent in some suburban Chicago counties.
How a Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
Illinois treats drunk driving as a very serious offense and the penalties associated with a DUI charge can be life altering. Every case is different, but there are some instances where it would be better to seek out a plea bargain than to contest the DUI charges in court. A plea bargain could help to ensure that you do not face time in jail and some could even allow you to avoid the statutory summary suspension. An experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney can help you understand your situation and work with prosecutors to negotiate a plea bargain that would be in your best interest.
Attorney Michael O’Meara has more than 20 years of legal experience, including time spent as a Cook County prosecutor. Attorney O’Meara’s background helps him to understand what the prosecution considers in making a plea bargain and it can help him obtain the best possible result in your case.
Call O’Meara Law today at 312-909-0706 for a free and confidential consultation regarding your case.