Recently a defendant charged with First Degree Murder pled guilty to Second Degree Murder in King County. See story here: Former JBLM soldier pleads guilty to second degree murder.
Now you might think that for an awful crime the defendant doesn't deserve any break whatsoever but the King County Prosecuting Attorney thinks this plea was justified.
Now this was a murder charge, so you would think that a first time offender charged with a misdemeanor DUI might have a similar opportunity, nope, think again! These first time DUI offenders are worse in the eyes of the King County Prosecutor's Office. The King County Prosecutor's Office has a no negotiation policy on first time DUIs, first time murder yes, but not on first time DUIs!
Over the 10 years I have been practicing in King County I have handled hundreds upon hundreds of DUIs. The majority of these first time offenders found themselves in the position simply because they misjudged their ability to drive after consuming alcohol. The vast majority were not involved in an accident and no one was injured. No one is condoning driving while drunk but when a prosecutor's office takes it upon itself to treat first time DUI offenders worse than first time murderers and rapists, there is certainly something rotten in Denmark.
People charged with DUI are not all bad people. Consider this, a former Washington State Supreme Court Justice was charged with DUI, numerous State Representatives and Congressmen, judges, police officers, firefighters, professional athletes, Microsoft Employees, NBA executives, Professional singers, etc. have found themselves charged with DUI when they made a judgment to drive when they honestly believed they were capable.
The King County Prosecutor's Office has taken it upon itself to penalize all DUI offenders and not negotiate any first time cases even though the legislature intended for negotiations to take place. This is why RCW 46.61.5055 specifically outlines "prior offenses." The legislature intended that reduced charges such as Reckless Driving and Negligent Driving in the First Degree, reduced from an original DUI would be "prior offenses" for sentencing purposes (meaning on a second offense the penalties start at 30 days in jail and go up for third and fourth offenses) if an individual were charged and convicted of a new DUI within 7 years from the date of the original arrest for DUI. Why did the legislature articulate prior offenses this way, it is because the overwhelming number of persons charged with a DUI don't re-offend and it doesn't necessarily believe that someone charged with a DUI has to be convicted and have a permanent offense on their record (a DUI can NEVER be removed from your record in Washington State if convicted or a plea of guilty is entered).
Now it is the King County Prosecutor's prerogative to do so but is it really the role of a prosecutor to only get convictions or is it to get justice? Think about it, if a first time felon is afforded the opportunity to plea to some lesser offense or to an amount of jail less than what is typical (I'm talking murderers, drug dealers, rapists, sex offenders, etc.) then why do misdemeanor offenders for DUI get treated worse? For example, a Reckless Driving offense, reduced from DUI, has a mandatory minimum penalty of 30 days of license suspension, 3 years of high risk (SR-22) insurance, and it will have conditions similar to those of a DUI conviction (everything except the day in jail and permanent conviction that cannot be expunged). There is no logic behind the position and I believe each attorney who adheres to this policy is a hypocrite. Why would I use such a harsh word? Because every single one of the prosecutors abiding by this policy personally know someone who has either been charged with a DUI, who should have been charged with a DUI or has committed the offense of DUI themselves (whether they were caught or not). Would they honestly say to their grandmother who was arrested and blew a .081, tough s#@t grandma, you gotta plead guilty!
The major issue now has become that this "policy" is a huge burden on the taxpaying citizens of the State of Washington. How you say? Why shouldn't we prosecute everyone charged with a crime? There is a difference between prosecution and persecution. To give someone the opportunity to admit guilt by way of a lesser plea is not letting the individual off the hook. How taxpayers are being effected is this way: troopers are being paid an increasingly inordinate amount of overtime to appear to court for evidentiary hearings and then sent home when there is simply not enough time on the calendar to hear the case. This happens every single Friday in King County District Court! That is not even taking into consideration the "close call" cases that arguably could be won by either side. When the State takes the position of a no negotiation policy it effectively is telling everyone charged, "just try me!" Now when those defendants do and win, then the State has just wasted taxpayer money when it could have offered a reduced plea and had the individual on probation for a couple of years making money, but due to the bull-headed nature of this "philosophy" many, many cases are going to trial and some juries are reaching not guilty verdicts.
Also, courtrooms are so overloaded with trials that independent and expert witnesses are sitting around all day then getting bumped to the next day or week. State toxicology lab workers testifying on these cases are actually spending more time in the courtroom than in the lab performing work to try and catch murderers and rapists because apparently DUIs are of greater concern to the prosecutor's office. Who do you think pays the salaries of those persons.
To sum up, again it is the prerogative of the King County Prosecutor's office to prosecute cases as it sees fit, but when the stance taken is that DUI convictions are more important that murder convictions or rape convictions, the political nature of the policy is evident. When a potential candidate gets on tv or radio and espouses what a great DUI conviction rate they have, the question should be asked, well how many felony suspects were given reduced pleas? Politics should not dictate negotiations.