Louisiana Driver’s Plea was Valid Even Without Express Statement of Waived Rights Before Trial Judge

When one is facing a charge of DWI, one can go to trial or engage in plea bargaining with the state. Deciding to negotiate a guilty plea, just like going to trial, carries with it its own set of potential advantages and disadvantages. If you plead guilty, the state can use that offense against you if you are charged again in the future for another DWI, unless you can show that your plea was improperly obtained. One driver from St. Tammany attempted to defeat his guilty plea by arguing that he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his rights. The Louisiana Court of Appeal was unpersuaded, though, since the evidence in the case showed a knowing and voluntary plea, even though the trial judge did not obtain an express statement of waiver of rights from the driver in open court.

On Aug. 31, 2010, a Louisiana State Trooper reported to the scene of a single-car accident on US 190 in St. Tammany Parish. In investigating the vehicle, the trooper found a bottle and a cup that smelled of alcohol. At a nearby hospital, the trooper performed sobriety tests, which the driver, Thomas Mason, III, failed. A blood-alcohol test yielded a result of 0.17. The driver had alcohol, Ambien, Xanax, and hydrocodone in his system.

The state charged the driver with fourth-offense DWI. Mason was convicted and sentenced to 27 years of hard labor, without eligibility for parole for at least three years. The driver appealed. The driver had argued that he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his rights when he pled guilty to a previous DWI offense in 2004, and, without counting that offense, the state could not legally charge him with a fourth-offense crime for the 2010 incident.

When a driver accused of DWI pleads guilty, the law requires the trial court to ensure that the accused person is informed that the guilty plea waives his privilege against self-incrimination, his right to a jury trial, and his right to confront his accusers. In Mason’s case, the trial judge, immediately before accepting the driver’s guilty plea, quizzed him about all of his rights, such as compelling witnesses to testify, confronting his accuser, and having a jury trial. The judge did not expressly ask Mason, “Do you understand that, by pleading guilty, you are waiving these rights?” The absence of this question was the crux of Mason’s argument in favor of throwing out that previous guilty plea.

The appeals court was not persuaded. Although the trial court arguably should have obtained an explicit statement from the driver acknowledging that he was waiving his constitutional rights by pleading guilty, the entirety of the exchange between the trial judge and Mason, along with the rest of the evidence, made it clear that the driver had knowingly and voluntarily waived his rights. As a result, the predicate offense validly counted, and the state was entitled to charge Mason with fourth-offense DWI for the most recent offense.

The court ruled as it did because Mason was represented by an attorney, and Mason told the court that his lawyer had informed him of his rights. Even though the trial judge never obtained a verbal waiver from the driver, the form Mason (and his lawyer) signed contained the necessary statement that he knowingly waived his rights.

Before you decide to go to trial or to plead guilty in your DWI case, you should know that each choice has possible advantages and disadvantages. Making this highly important decision requires having a full understanding of the options and consequences. The Louisiana DUI attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm can offer you reliable and easy-to-understand information and advice about how to approach your case.

For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

The Risks of Negotiating a DWI Plea Arrangement in Louisiana Without a Lawyer, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, July 28, 2015

Calculating When an Old DWI Ceases to ‘Count’ Against You Under Louisiana Law, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, April 30, 2015

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