Can a Judge not following an agreed sentence affect negotiations in DUI cases

Let’s say a Judge is known to not follow agreed sentence recommendations between a prosecutor and a defense attorney on DUI cases.  Can something like that affect negotiations?  Absolutely, and I routinely see it happen in my practice as a Seattle DUI Attorney.  Here is how….

In King County it is no secret that DUI cases that used to get offered reduced charges are no longer being offered that same deal.  This shift in a negotiating policy has been extremely frustrating for many individuals facing DUI charges as well as the DUI Attorneys who practice in this area of law.

For the longest time I always assumed the reason DUI cases are no longer being reduced in the manner they used to was because Prosecutors wanted to show how tough they were on DUI cases and increase the number of DUI convictions to appease the public.  And honestly that is still probably one of the main reasons for this shift in policy.  We all remember the repeat DUI offenders in Seattle who were responsible for the rash of vehicular homicide cases a few years back and the back lash the Courts and Prosecutors faced because of it.

However it was recently brought to my attention another factor in the decline of reduced charges offered by Prosecutors was the fear that certain Judge’s would not follow the intention of the parties.  For example there are some Judges in the area where I practice that often go below a Prosecutor’s intended plea deal when sentencing criminal cases.  Even though we as defense attorneys think that is a good thing maybe looking back it wasn’t the best practice in the long term.

Yes, it was cool when a Judge on their own accord would impose deferred sentence on a reduced DUI charge.  In case you’re not familiar with what that means the sentence would not be imposed or deferred for a period of time, at the end of that period of time the client could take the guilty plea back and the charge would be dropped.  But the years and years of this routinely happening had to frustrate Prosecutors.  Think about it.  A Prosecutor and a DUI Attorney agree to a certain plea deal.  The Prosecutor and DUI Attorney make an agreement that the sentence is agreed.  Then a Judge just ignores that agreement and makes their own sentence that the Prosecutor never intended.

To be honest I kind of get it.  If something like that was routinely being done to the detriment of the Defense.  For example a Judge would impose more jail, fine, other conditions than what was initially agreed to between the parties.  Wouldn’t the defense bar be up in arms and upset that a Judge imposed more than the agreed sentence.  It’s the same way with the Prosecutors.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m a defense attorney, obviously I want my clients to get the best outcome possible.  But before we as defense attorneys start bad mouthing the Prosecutors who no longer offer any deals, maybe we should look at all the times we walked away smiling when a Judge imposed a deferred sentence on a reduced DUI over the Prosecutors objection.  Maybe we are partially to blame for this shift in policy when we in round about ways asked the Judge’s to not follow the sentence recommendations by hinting for these deferred sentences.

Just some food for thought on a Monday afternoon.

About the author:  Matthew Leyba is a DUI Attorney in Seattle.  He is the owner of Leyba Defense PLLC, a boutique criminal defense firm focusing on DUI defense in the Puget Sound area.