Do you have the right to a jury trial for a DUI?


Many DUI cases appear before a lone judge who makes the decision and assigns any necessary punishment. Although it is possible to have a case held before a jury, those type of trials are becoming less frequent all across the land.


Change in Law


The federal law states that people charged with a DUI have the right to present their case before a jury. However, many states have deemed drunken driving cases to be much less serious when compared to other types of crimes such as robbery, rape and murder. In order to lessen the burden on the court systems many cases are brought before a DUI judge that hears the facts and decides innocence or guilt.


There are states that will consider holding a jury trial. Usually it takes a monumental effort from an experienced DUI lawyer in order to successfully convince the court to such a trial.


Benefits of a Jury


Most judges enter their courtroom with an open mind, ready to hear the facts and make an informed decision according to the law. Yet certain situations, and certain laws, carry a certain stigma that seems to carry a bias towards the defendant. A DUI arrest is one of those cases. There are many people who will not vote guilty in a trial simply because they are not accustomed to seeing numerous cases on a regular basis. The intricacies of the law may be too much for some people to follow and therefore difficult to prove guilt. In addition, ALL of the jurors in a case must agree on guilt. If any one person declares the defendant to be innocent then the person can be acquitted.


Motions of Limine


Once the court has agreed to grant a jury trial the prosecuting attorney and the DUI attorney must bring motions before the judge. The judge decides which pieces of evidence will be allowed to be used at trial. It is not uncommon for a DUI defense lawyer to bring multiple motions at this stage of the process.


Picking the Jury


After the motions are decided on, the jury will be selected. The prosecutor as well as the defense attorneys will both be present and given a chance to ask questions of the potential jurors. The goal of the lawyers is to determine if the potential jury selections are capable of having a impartial frame of reference towards the pending case.


Case of the Prosecutor


Once the trial begins it is the responsibility of the prosecutor to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the defendant is guilty. In order to prove guilt the prosecutor will use many tactics. Witnesses that may have observed the drunken drive will be called to testify. The arresting officer may be asked to appear and answer questions. Medical experts with knowledge about blood alcohol content (BAC) may be asked to provide their opinion.


Case of the Defense


Unlike the prosecutor, the defense merely has to create the doubt in the jury's mind that the defendant is guilty. Usually the DUI attorney will ask questions of the witnesses and experts used by the prosecutor. The defense also has the right to call witnesses and their own medical experts that may refute the claims of any field sobriety tests or any errors made in chemical or blood tests. The defendant may be asked to testify. This means that the prosecutor has the option of asking the defendant any questions as well.


Proving a Person's Innocence


It is not always necessary to prove that a person had not been drinking before driving. It is possible to argue against the reasons the police officer pulled the person over, as well as how the breath test was performed. In addition, it may be possible to argue the results of the breathalyzer if a blood test shows significantly different results.


Closing and Deliberation


Once the prosecutor and defense have finished presenting their cases the judge will give instructions to the jury for deciding on the case and then give them time to deliberate, or discuss the guilt or innocence. Every state that provides for DUI jury cases requires a unanimous vote of guilty by the jury. If all members of the jury do not decide that the defendant is guilty then the jury is referred to as “hung.” At this point the judge can choose to dismiss the charges brought against the defendant.


By Richard Jacobs

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