Court Holds Only Judges Can Reduce DUI Charges

Back in April, Governor Scott Walker signed a bill into law making a fourth drunk driving charge a felony, regardless of its timing in relation to previous charges. This is important information for Wisconsin residents who may suddenly wind up facing the potential of stiffer penalties for a repeat offense. Often, though, charges can be negotiated down so that, should a conviction be obtained by the prosecution, the penalties are less severe. But a recent court ruling has shifted the landscape.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals recently upheld a trial court decision that disallowed local prosecutors from changing a drunk driving charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. The case arose in Oneida County after a man was charged with his fourth DUI and, under the law at the time, it was recent enough to warrant a felony charge. Yet prosecutors changed the charge from felony DUI to misdemeanor DUI during plea bargaining. But the trial judge, believing the State had a strong case, refused to accept the deal.

The Court of Appeals, in affirming the trial judge's ruling, held that the state statutes clearly indicate that a prosecutor must ask a judge before amending drunk driving charges. Additionally, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court judge had good reason to refuse to downgrade the charges, reaffirming that the State's case was strong and a lesser charge would not promote the public interest.

What does this mean for Wisconsin residents facing DUI charges? It means that they need to be aggressive in plea negotiations with the expectation that the matter may still go to trial. By hoping for the best and planning for the worst, these accused individuals will be ready for whatever is thrown at them, and they will be prepared to fight for their freedom, reputations, and futures.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Court: Wisconsin Prosecutors Can't Alter Drunk Driving Charges Without OK," Todd Richmond, June 15, 2016