What is a DUI Jury Trial?
In most jurisdictions, you can opt for a DUI jury trial if you want your case to be decided by a jury. If you want your case decided by a judge, this is called a DUI bench trial. In some jurisdictions, the DUI prosecutor also can opt to have a jury trial even if you want a bench trial. In a bench trial, the judge decides everything. In a jury trial, the judge still decides issues of law such as whether the breath test is excluded at a pre-trial motion, procedural questions like whether or not a witness should really be considered an expert, or whether or not an objection should be rejected, overruled or sustained (upheld).
The jury, on the other hand, makes the decisions as to questions of fact such as who is telling the truth, or whether the evidence in the case justifies a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
In almost all states, it is your fundamental right if facing any criminal trial, including misdemeanors like DUI-DWI that carry punishments of up to a year in jail, to have a DUI jury trial if you want one. To opt out of a jury trial and have the judge decide guilt, you must expressly, intelligently, and personally participate in opting out of the jury trial.
Even in states that afford you the right to opt for a jury trial, not every court has the ability to offer a jury trial. If your case is originally booked in an inferior (entry-level) court that does not allow juries (like a traffic court, justice court or a municipal court), and you want a jury, the trial can be transferred to a court that gives you that option (like a circuit or superior court). The names of these courts differ from state to state, and your experienced trial lawyer will know which court is the appropriate court for such transfers.
In some states, the court system is set up to always allow your case an “initial” trial at a non-jury court, with a full right to get a NEW trial at court with a jury trial authority. Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama are three states with this system. In these states, the SECOND trial (with a jury) will start from scratch, which is called a “de novo” trial.
Based on your DUI attorney’s knowledge of your DUI case, his or her knowledge of the different courts, prosecutors and judges, and his or her experience with the juries in the jurisdiction in which your DUI-DWI trial will be held, good reasons may exist why a jury trial is your only realistic chance to win your case. Certain types of cases are usually not good candidates for a bench trial. For example, if your case involves a breath test result exceeding the per se limit and your defense is that your high protein diet may have caused a false, elevated reading, few judges would be likely to give the same credence to your expert as the average juror would. Winning these type cases is very possible at a jury trial.
Copyright 2022. William C. Head. All Rights Reserved.