Interviewer: I’m sure a lot of people say I’m just going to plead guilty and get it over with. What’s so bad about that? What’s the consequence for a first time DWI just pleading guilty?
Eric: Being accused of a DWI is a crime. So that’s the biggest reason right there is if somebody just pleads guilty, it’s as if your pleading guilty to a larceny or an assault or any other misdemeanor in New York State. It will give the person a criminal record and in New York State there is no sealing provision, there is no expungement for this crime. And we prefer to think of DWI as not as a crime, but we prefer to think of DWI as a mistake.
If the person in fact is operating the car while their ability is so affected by alcohol, that’s a mistake. I don’t think that’s a criminal who wakes up in the morning and decides to take a gun and rob somebody. That’s a mistake, so if somebody just says I’ll throw myself at the mercy of the court or for whatever other reason just pleads guilty to it will now have a criminal record. And anytime there’s an application filled out and the question is there ‘Have you ever been convicted of a crime?’ The answer would have to be yes.
We find that most people who have first time DWIs, and again depending on the circumstances and whether or not they took the tests and some other variables. A lot these cases can be resolved with a non-criminal finding. And that’s much better to have a violation with a non-criminal then having a criminal conviction.
Interviewer: So besides the permanent criminal record, which is bad enough, what are some of the other penalties for first time DWI?
Eric: On the first time DWI, if there’s a conviction by pleading guilty or if there s a trial, depending on whether it’s a DWI or an aggravated DWI, there’s a license issue. On a DWI, it’s a loss of license – it’s a revocation for 6 months. For an aggravated DWI, it’s a revocation for a year. There are fines, fines that can be levied up to $1,000 dollars or more. There, again, are possible employment issues, criminal record issues, so it’s not just a simple of going in, pleading guilty, paying a fine, and going home.
You can go to jail, although on first time DWI without having something aggravating on top of it, I don’t see people going to jail. But you can be on probation for three years, you can go to jail, you can pay a fine or a combination of these things. So it’s never a good idea to just go in and plead guilty. You always want to talk to a lawyer, always want to find out about the circumstances of your particular case and find out where the person would fit. And then what are the possibilities or the probabilities that you would be facing in way of a sanction. Then you can always try to plea bargain and do what needs to be done. And again, the goal is to have your case be reduced to a violation or have it dismissed or have something other than a criminal conviction at the end of the day.
By Eric Sachs