Do High-Profile Defendants Have A Harder Time Getting A Fair Deal On A First-Time Drunk Driving Offense?

Any type of charge related to driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be a disaster in your life -- it can cost you a small fortune in legal fees and fines, result in jail time or mandatory alcohol or drug counseling and cost you the ability to drive. However, if you happen to be a public figure of some sort, like a politician, a member of law enforcement, or even a police officer, the cost to your reputation can be incalculable. 

Does being a public figure also make it harder for you to get the same treatment as everyone else who makes a one-time mistake? This is what you should know.

First-time offenders are often shown leniency in an effort to stop a cycle of repeat offenses from starting.

Drunk driving has been a "hot button" in law enforcement and politics for a long time now, which has resulted in increasingly stiff penalties everywhere in the nation even for first-time offenders. However, first-time offenders who don't cause an accident are often shown a measure of leniency by both prosecutors and judges.

The leniency serves several purposes: it helps keep jails from being over-crowded, it makes the court docket more manageable by encouraging a plea instead of a trial, and it gives first-time offenders a chance to get treatment and education through diversion programs that will hopefully prevent a repeat offense. Merely punishing the behavior hasn't been particularly effective over the years at stopping those with an alcohol addiction from making the same mistakes all over again, but counseling and programs like Alcoholics Anonymous try to get at the root of the drinking in order to stop it. Finding a way to keep a first-time offender from becoming a repeat offender benefits society as a whole and keeps the roads safer for everyone. 

Prosecutors are often reluctant to offer high-profile defendants the same leniency.

High-profile defendants often don't get the same sort of leniency offered to them simply because prosecutors are worried about being accused of showing them special treatment because of "who they are," instead of the merits of their case. Some experts say that prosecutors -- who are often highly conscious of the political ramifications of their decisions and the effects of negative press on their own careers and livelihoods -- actually seek stiffer penalties against well-known community figures so that they aren't accused of giving the defendants better treatment than someone without political or social connections.

That's bad news if you're the defendant because you're actually being given negative special treatment -- a prosecutor may push for the maximum punishment for a first offense instead of agreeing to a diversion program or anything else that could be publicly perceived as a sweet deal.

Defendants can often help themselves in this situation.

Experts like those from Public Relations Society of America suggest that high-profile defendants should try to avoid shutting the public out. They're more likely to gain public sympathy -- which, in turn, may make the prosecutor willing to negotiate -- if they're honest and upfront. You have to walk a careful line, however, because you don't want to say anything that could potentially damage your case if you eventually do have to go to trial. Seek your attorney's advice and try to work out what you can say that will allow you to be candid and seem sympathetic when asked for a public comment.

Another thing you may want to keep in mind is that what's big news today is often of very little interest to the public tomorrow. While many defendants just want to settle their case as quickly as possible to end the anxiety over their future, that could be a mistake in your case. Letting the case drag out may make public interest wane -- which could make a prosecutor concerned about his or her own public image more willing to negotiate.

For more specific advice on your case, talk to an attorney like Steven T. Fox Law Firm.