DUI Stipulated Bench Trial – Conditional Plea
For strategic reasons, your attorney may recommend that you forego a trial and use a “stipulated bench trial” or a “conditional plea” (of guilty, nolo contendere or to accept a deferred adjudication or other favorable “first offender” plea) to set up an appeal of your judge’s pre-trial rulings that denied key defense motions.
This is done just so that a critical legal point in your case can be decided by a court higher than the trial level court. These higher courts (“appellate courts”) routinely refuse to decide whether or not an error has been made in your case until your case is “final.” To get your case finalized, your attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge may agree to allow your attorney to preserve and later appeal one or more legal issues and to proceed with a stipulated bench trial or a conditional plea. Such a plan saves valuable trial time and allows your attorney to try to undo the conviction on appeal.
Going forward with the trial may “undo” the favorable situation for appeal that exists after the trial judge has ruled against you. If you opt for a full-blown trial, this may result in the prosecutor bringing all witnesses to trial. This may “fix” some gap in the proof of key evidence that was revealed at a motion hearing when only one or two witnesses testified.
Alternatively, your DUI-DWI specialist may seek to minimize jail time (in the event you lose) by not putting forth a three-day jury trial.
Some judges will increase punishment if you are unsuccessful at trial. Criminal defense attorneys call the constitutionally-questionable practice of the judge adding jail time to the “normal” sentence after an unsuccessful attempt to obtain acquittal “charging rent.”
A stipulated bench trial involves the use of certain evidence (such as testimony at a pre-trial motions hearing) as the State’s entire offer of proof on a key issue. As used here, a stipulation is an agreement between the prosecution and your defense attorney relating to the use of this evidence instead of proceeding with trial. The judge may have entered his or her interpretation of the law, even though your attorney has noted on the record his or her objection to the admission of critical evidence or noted his or her disagreement with the judge’s order.
A conditional plea is one where you plead guilty, nolo contendere, or offer an Alford plea (even though you feel you are innocent), reserving the right to appeal a pre-trial ruling to an appellate court. By entering such a plea, your case is closed at the trial court level.
You then let the appellate court decide the correctness of the trial judge’s ruling.
Using either of these “tools” for framing an appellate ruling can be a wise and effective means to resolve certain difficult DUI-DWI cases. It takes an experienced DUI-DWI attorney to fashion this type of attack for a case that has little chance of success at a jury trial. In utilizing either of these tools, you are betting on an appellate court to eventually find in your favor on the disputed issue.
Other strategic advantages may be obtained by the use of such a tactic, such as delaying or deferring the record of conviction being entered on state records or possibly allowing you to continue driving while the appeal goes forward.