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The Value of a First Impression
The first pretrial conference in a drunk driving DUI case is a chance for the prosecuting officials and the defense attorney to meet at a set time and place to discuss your case. This meeting will typically NOT involve the client unless of course you are representing yourself and then you must find and speak with the prosecuting attorney all on your own. The client will usually wait in the hallway or designated area for clients while the prosecutor and defense attorney meet in private or at counsel table in some district courts. Many times the defense attorney will have telephone or written communication with the prosecutor ahead of the pretrial conference to lay the foundation for a productive meeting.
Be Prepared For The Pretrial Well In Advance
This is not the time to be looking at the police report for the first time or even meeting the client for the first time. As you can read above, there is quite a bit of work to do before we can even begin to be prepared for a pretrial conference with the prosecutor.
There Can Be Different Prosecutors Depending on Jurisdiction
One note that needs to mentioned at this point is that Michigan allows certain municipalities to handle their own DUI prosecutions. This allows a village, city or township to generate revenues from fines and costs and make sure they can keep their borders safe from drunk driving. This can have a huge impact on your case. While the state prosecutors represent the People of the State of Michigan and will be funded entirely by the county or the state, local municipalities are typically paying for attorney fees of private practicioners that handle municipal prosecutions on the side. This can work for or against you as we have seen some jurisdictions be more lenient in their plea offers and yet others more strict due to a particular attorney with an attitude toward DUI cases.
Do Not Attend the Initial Pretrial Conference Alone!
A strong warning against handling a pretrial conference on your own thinking that you can then later hire an attorney to get a better deal. This has blown up more than once as while you may be a highly intelligent person capable of negotiation, you are not a drunk driving attorney and may make statements that hurt your case and will certainly be used against you in a trial. In addition, you may upset the prosecutor by saying the wrong thing or locking in an offer when you should have gained leverage by filing pretrial motions. The pretrial conference may not result in a plea that is in your best interest. If not, then the matter will be typically set for pretrial motions, if appropriate, or a final pretrial which is typically scheduled immediately preceding either a bench or jury trial.
A Plea Offer Can Be Withdrawn
There is some danger to turning down an offer made by a prosecutor at the initial pretrial conference as some jurisdictions will put time limits or will withdraw the offer if not accepted at the pretrial conference. If the plea agreement is acceptable to the client, it can either be set for an immediate plea before the judge or it can be set for a combined plea and sentence to allow for a substance abuse assessment and pre-sentence investigation. This is typically completed by the district court probation office but there are times when this can be circumvented if the substance abuse assessment and other requirements have been completed. We have even been successful in wrapping up the entire case at the initial pretrial due to the diligence and work of our clients to finish their substance abuse assessment and all recommendations as well as victim impact panels. Clients like this outcome as it gets the ordeal behind them and they can move on with their lives. The only downside may be that the fines and costs are due at sentencing pursuant to law, but the judges can allow for payment plans or payment over the course of probation.