If I have a clean record up until now, can I get a better deal in DUI court?
Generally not. If you do have a prior criminal record, especially prior DUI or driving-related convictions, this can put you in worse shape when it comes to negotiating your DUI case. But the reverse is not true. Rarely can you get the DUI charge reduced or dismissed, or the standard DUI penalties cut down, merely because you have no prior criminal record.
Although DUI is considered a criminal offense, most people who get arrested for (or convicted of) DUI are not “criminals” in the traditional sense. They were not out seeking to break the law for selfish or destructive purposes. They are teachers, social workers, doctors, real estate agents…good and productive citizens who perhaps used bad judgment. Most of them lack criminal records.
Therefore, if you face DUI prosecution, the absence of a criminal record (or the fact of your good character) doesn't really distinguish you from most of the thousands of other California DUI defendants moving through the system. Pointing out your “clean history” or your life accomplishments generally doesn't buy you a lot of bargaining power with the DUI prosecutor or judge.
What does cause you to get better deals in DUI court? Convincing the D.A. that his case is less than airtight. The prosecutor looks at the DUI case and says to himself, “If I take it to jury trial, will I win? What are the chances I will lose?” The prosecutor never likes to go through the trouble of a jury trial only to walk away with a “Not Guilty” verdict. The more you shake his confidence, the more you make him worry that he would lose at trial, the more willing he will be to offer you the deal you seek.