Is a Negligent Driving Conviction Better Than a DUI Conviction?

You were the unlucky one last weekend. You had a few drinks with some buddies after work, forgot that that headlight was out, and got popped for DUI when the cops pulled you over on the light. You were driving fine, though. And your breath test was just over the legal limit. You want to get this taken care of as quickly as possible, and the prosecutor has offered you negligent driving in the first degree as a plea bargain. What should you do?

First, you should talk to a DUI lawyer, who can help you estimate your situation, including whether or not you have any grounds for dismissal, in addition to helping you decide whether or not to plead to negligent driving. And you should do this sooner than later. With an attorney’s help, you may already be able to keep your driving privileges.

Second, you need to understand what negligent driving in the first degree is. But before I explain, let me press that the statute I’m using in this example is a Seattle, Washington statute. If you are in a different state, the laws might be different. Make sure you talk with a DUI attorney before you make any decisions.

Negligent driving in the first degree is very similar to driving under the influence, and very similar to negligent driving in the second degree. This is negligent driving first degree in a nutshell: operating a motor means in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or character while exhibiting the effects of having consumed alcohol or an illegal drug.

Negligence is defined as: “the failure to exercise due care;” and “the doing of some act that a reasonably careful person would not do under the same or similar circumstances or the failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under the same or similar circumstance.” Exhibiting the effects of alcohol is defined approximately as having the odor of alcohol on your breath, or exhibiting behavior of having consumed alcohol, and is in possession of or close closeness to alcohol, or is shown by other evidence to have recently consumed alcohol.

The penalty for this action in Washington State is up to a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail (it is characterized as a misdemeanor). What is meaningful here are two things. First, the penalty is smaller (DUI is a gross misdemeanor – up to $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail). And second, there is no license suspension associated with a negligent driving conviction.

In the end, if you are charged with DUI and it looks like the prosecution has a pretty strong case, a plea to negligent driving first degree can be a pretty great compromise. No license suspension, no mandatory jail time, and a smaller fine are all likely. And you don’t have a DUI on your record, which can often carry a meaningful stigma. Before making the decision, however, make sure you consult with a DUI lawyer.

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