02.26.14 8:36 PM ET
How Justin Bieber Can Beat His DUI
There is only one good reason to ever take a plea bargain. The magic lies in the "bargain" portion and like any good bargain you want to benefit more than the person on the other side. That's what makes it a deal, right?
Under that rationale, Justin Bieber has some options to weigh. Bieber currently faces three misdemeanor counts in Miami-Dade County, consisting of driving under the influence (DUI), driving with an expired license, and resisting arrest. He should only take the deal, and plead no contest to a charge of reckless driving, only if he believes the state of Florida can absolutely get a DUI conviction against him. Otherwise, it's a pretty bum deal for Bieber.
Typically, plea bargains are worthwhile for defendants because the reduced charges and sentence received for entering a guilty plea (and thereby saving the tax payers big dollars along with the prosecutor's time associated with a trial) outweighs the risks involved with losing at trial and facing more severe charges and rougher sentencing. Plea bargains really start to make sense when the prosecutor's case is airtight and a conviction appears inevitable.
That's not exactly Bieber's situation.
First, the only possible deal is an opportunity to go through a first time offender program that includes a possible dismissal of current charges in exchange for a no-contest plea on reckless driving and a ton of probation requirements including fines, 40 hours of community service, alcohol education course, a victim impact panel, and the one giving Bieber the most pause: random drug testing for up to nine months. Here is where the bum deal part comes in: those terms almost mirror the exact sentence Bieber would receive if he were found guilty at trial by a judge. In Florida (as in most states) there is near zero discretion given to a judge presiding over a DUI case. The sentence is dictated by statute and therefore the defendant gets next to no payoff for his guilty plea.
The offer is definitely bad, but there is another and even more compelling reason Bieber should just take his chances with the judge. As stated, a plea bargain is beneficial when you get a significantly lesser sentence AND the prosecutor has a strong case against you. We know the sentence wouldn't be a good deal but the prosecutor's case also has serious problems. There is no doubt about the critical public safety concerns associated with DUI offenses, therefore judges aren't just handing out acquittals like candy. However, there are also major considerations for defendant liberties and due process. So far, it looks like Miami-Dade police might have played fast and loose with the Fourth Amendment. Thanks to our beloved Constitution, officers must obtain probable cause to stop, search and seize during the investigation of a crime. This leads to the two-prong test defense lawyers use to battle DUI cases, challenge the stop and challenge the arrest. Put another way, Bieber's defense lawyer will make the officer prove he had probable cause to stop the car and that he had additional probable cause to arrest based on evidence found during the stop.
The problem with the stop: The officer in Bieber's case claimed to have stopped the yellow Lamborghini for drag racing in a residential neighborhood. While some initial reports stated the pop superstar was going 136 M.P.H., subsequent GPS tracking data on the vehicle and surveillance video indicate Bieber might have been going as slowly as 27 M.P.H. If the latter is true, the officer had no legal probable cause to stop Bieber and therefore everything that happened after is null because fruit from the poisonous tree doesn't sell in a court of law. There are two conflicted stories here, but contradiction usually works in favor of the defendant because it's always the state that carries the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The problem with the arrest: Further adding to the prosecutor's headache is the officer's statement that he developed probable cause to arrest based on the smell of alcohol on Bieber's breath. That becomes a tough pill to swallow (pun intended) when you look at the blood alcohol content report showing Bieber had only 0.011- 0.014 in his system—both being far below the legal limit and nearly impossible to detect from odor alone. We know toxicology reports later showed Bieber had ingested quite a few drugs, but that takes us back to the fruit of the poisonous tree issue. The officer should have never stopped Bieber if he didn't have sufficient probable cause. Even Bieber's ridiculous statement won't destroy a dismissal or acquittal for faulty probable cause. The end simply cannot justify the means.
Guilty in fact doesn't mean guilty in the eyes of the law. It's an uncomfortable but important distinction. When a judge starts to catch wind of these types of inconsistencies, the state's key witness (the law enforcement officer) begins to have major credibility problems. Add the 15 citations of officer misconduct this cop has racked up and you're talking major problems for the prosecution. Problems so big it only makes common sense for Bieber to bypass any plea offer and move forward with a trial. Instead of heading to trial next week both sides will meet with the judge for a status confidence to discuss last minute details about the processing. That should give the state plenty of time to size up their case and Bieber should continue to keep his cards close to his chest because even the worse case scenario at trial doesn't leave him much worse off that anything the state would be willing to offer in a plea "bargain."