What are factors that can influence a sentence for DUI?
Much of the discussion you can find about the offense of drunk driving concerns issues like the legal grounds upon which a police officer might pull you over, or the types of field sobriety tests you may be subject to, or possible approaches to take when negotiating with a district attorney. But what happens if your case goes to trial, and a jury finds you guilty of DUI? Is there anything more that your defense attorney can do on your behalf after that?
In most states, the answer to that question is, “Not much.” In many drunk driving situations the judge must go along with mandatory sentencing guidelines after the jury reaches a guilty verdict, but Oklahoma is one of a handful of states that still permits the jury some leeway in making a sentence recommendation, which the court generally will give deference to and under ordinary circumstances go along with.
What are the rules governing jury sentencing recommendations?
The general rule in the United States is that juries can make sentencing recommendations in capital cases (for example, whether to impose the death penalty or a lesser form of punishment). Oklahoma, however, extends this jury discretion to less severe situations, including DUI convictions. This flexibility is subject to certain limitations, including:
● Whether the defendant pleads guilty to the charges. The right of a jury in this state to make its own sentencing recommendation does not extend to situations in which the defendant does not contest the criminal accusations (note that a convicted defendant has no right to waive or refuse a jury sentence, or to request that the judge impose a sentence instead).
● Whether the jury can agree on a sentence. In cases where the jury cannot reach a consensus on what the sentence should be, responsibility to impose punishment reverts to the judge.
● Whether the jury recommends a sentence that falls outside of the appropriate sentencing guidelines. If the jury goes “too far” in its sentence recommendation, such as a sentence that is longer than the maximum allowed by law, then it is up to the judge to scale back the sentence to the maximum.
What are some factors that the jury needs to consider in sentencing?
The jury’s sentence can be influenced by what are known as “mitigating” or “aggravating” circumstances. Mitigating circumstances that can suggest a lighter sentence include having little or no history of prior convictions, or crimes that did not result in harm to a person, or if you were not the main offender but an “accessory” instead, or if you were subject to influences, such as extreme stress, that affected your judgment when the offense was committed. In one recent Oklahoma DUI case in Cleveland County, mitigating circumstances that led the jury to recommend a relatively lenient sentence for DUI and driving with a revoked driver’s license included the fact that no accident resulted and no one was hurt.
Aggravating circumstances, on the other hand, can include having a blood alcohol content more than .15, or prior DUI convictions, or other facts that suggest a state of mind such as premeditation or recklessness. Additionally, you can find yourself being subject to additional, non-DUI charges in connection with a DUI arrest, such as the case of a woman who was accused of child endangerment when she allegedly attempted to drive while intoxicated and had a child in the vehicle with her.
It is the responsibility of your defense attorney to uncover and present to the jury mitigating circumstances on your behalf. Having an experienced DUI defense lawyer who knows what to look for and how to integrate facts favorable to your side of the case so that the jury can take them into account may not preclude a conviction in all cases, but at the very least can make the difference between receiving the maximum sentence allowed by law or a lesser one based on the jury’s discretion.