Can I Demand a Jury Trial in a California DUI Case?
If you’re like most people, the prospect of standing before a jury and defending yourself against criminal charges can sound pretty daunting. Jury Trials are typical for many criminal charges, but what if you’re arrested for a DUI in California? Can you demand a jury trial in your case?
In this article, we’ll discuss when and how you can request a trial by jury in a DUI case. We’ll also cover some of the pros and cons of going to trial. So if you’ve been arrested for DUI in California, read on to learn more about your options.
Can You Get a Jury Trial for a DUI?
Yes, you can have a jury trial if you have been accused of driving under the influence. A DUI is a criminal offense, and under the California Penal Code, you are legally entitled to a jury trial before being convicted of a public offense.
Judge Or Jury Trial: What’s Better If You’re Charged With a DUI?
A jury trial is a trial in which members of the public—typically twelve members—will listen to your case and decide whether or not you are guilty of the crime you’ve been charged with.
Jury trials are typically a fundamental right within the criminal justice system. However, you can waive your right to a jury trial. For example, if you were to negotiate a plea bargain or agree to lower an offense or violation by working with the prosecuting attorney, a jury trial may not be necessary. Thus, many DUI cases are resolved outside the court system because charges are reduced or dismissed.
If you opt to proceed with a jury trial, the trial will occur quickly after your DUI arrest. A court will schedule your trial within 45 days. If you are being held in jail after an arrest, a court may set your trial date even sooner—within 30 days of the date of your arrest. A trial can result in either a “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict.
Going to trial can be very costly and time consuming. You may be able to resolve your charges more quickly and on better terms without going to trial. An experienced DUI lawyer can counsel you on your options.
California Criminal Jury Trials – How it Works
After your DUI arrest, you will appear in court. This appearance is within 48 hours of your arrest and is not a jury trial. You will go before a judge and declare your initial plea during this appearance. You may plead no contest, guilty, or not guilty to DUI charges. If your plea is not guilty, then a trial date is set.
Inside a DUI Jury Trial – What to Expect
1. Jury Selection
A DUI jury trial will occur like any other criminal trial. Part one of the trial is jury selection. The jury selection is a process in which the lawyers for the prosecution and defense will question, eliminate, and finalize the members of the public that will comprise the jury.
The first step of jury selection during the trial is for the trial court judge to request a selection of the prospective jurors who were randomly selected for jury duty to be sent to your courtroom. From there, the selection process can begin. Upon entering the court, the jurors must swear they will truthfully answer all questions about their qualifications and abilities to serve in the role of a juror.
Next, the judge will speak to the group of jurors. The judge will explain who is involved in the case and possibly what the case is about. After this, questioning of each juror can begin. This questioning is known as voir dire. The prosecutor and defense attorney will ask questions to determine if the jurors may have any biases or whether there may be any reasons why they cannot be fair and impartial while serving on this jury. The judge may also ask questions.
Jurors are obligated to follow the law as explained by the judge, and if one of the attorneys or the judge feels an individual cannot do so, that juror may be excused. If a lawyer wants to excuse a juror, the attorney must give a reason, known as a challenge. Challenges can be for cause or without providing a reason (peremptory). The prosecutor and defense can each make an unlimited amount of challenges for cause and 10 peremptory challenges in California criminal cases (where there is no death penalty or life imprisonment possibility).
The process of questioning and excusing jurors goes on until a final group jurors and alternates are agreed upon. Once the final group is assembled, take an oath that they will come to a decision in the case based only the evidence admitted at the trial and instructions of the court.
2. Opening Statements
Opening statements are the attorneys’ introductions given by each side of the case to the jurors about what the case is all about and what they will hear during the trial. These statements must be solely about facts that will be backed up by evidence and cannot be arguments. In a DUI case, the prosecution gives their opening statement first because they have the burden to prove their case for the charges to stick.
3. The Case-in-Chief
The case-in-chief refers to the attorney arguments and actual trial itself. Here, each side introduces their evidence following rules outlined in the California Evidence Code. Evidence is presented in various ways, including:
- Documents, photos, test results, etc.;
- Testimony of witnesses or experts; and
- Testimony of the accused, should they decide to elect this right.
In general, witnesses may only testify regarding information or matters they are personally familiar with or knowledgeable about. The opposing side can question witnesses about their testimony after they have given it. This is called cross-examination. This can happen with witnesses from each side, and each side will have one opportunity to inquire about any testimony they wish.
Any subsequent questions raised by either side are called re-direct questioning. Each side may only re-direct regarding issues or topics the prior attorney raised with the witness. This ensures the process does not go on without a limit.
While introducing evidence into the record, the opposing side may have objections to the evidence. These objections must be based on the California Evidence Code and usually fall into one of the following categories:
- A statement lacks foundationor a witness does not have personal knowledge;
- The proposed evidence is incomplete;
- The proposed evidence is inadmissible speculationwith no direct evidence;
- Statements or testimony is inadmissible hearsay;
- The proposed evidence is misleading, irrelevantor unduly prejudicial;
- The testimony contradicts prior testimony given under oath; or
- Documents are not authenticatedor were not previously disclosed in discovery.
A judge will rule on any objections to evidence raised by either side.
The case-in-chief can take one or more days, depending on the availability of witnesses, the court’s schedule, and much more. Once each side’s evidence has been fully presented and any arguments regarding admissibility are resolved, then the case moves towards its final stages.
4. Closing Arguments
Closing arguments occur once each side presents all of their evidence and “rests” their case. This part of the trial is each lawyer’s time to make one last impact on the jury before the jurors leave to deliberate and make a decision. It can be highly impactful. Many lawyers use this time to dramatize their case and tell a story that presents the most favorable picture of their client, what happened and why their client should prevail.
In a DUI case, the prosecutor will make their closing argument first, followed by defense counsel. Each lawyer will usually explain how the evidence supports their theory of the case, the problems with the other side’s case or arguments, and what issues the jury must work through to come to a verdict. Because the prosecutor has the burden of proof, they will be granted one last statement after the defense counsel’s closing statemetn. This rebuttal is the government’s final chance to respond to the defendant’s arguments and make one final impression on the jury.
Before going to deliberate, a judge may present the jury with specific instructions to help them understand the process they must follow to decide on a verdict. There are different jury instructions depending on what type of DUI a person is charged with:
- DUI without injury;
- DUI with injury;
- Driving With 0.08 Percent Blood Alcohol; or
- Driving Under the Influence.
The jury must follow the specific instructions they are given.
5. Jury Deliberations
After closing arguments are complete, the jury will retreat to a private room to discuss the case. First, they will pick a foreperson amongst themselves to guide the process. The jurors will then discuss the case until they unanimously agree whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty and give their verdict.
In getting to a unanimous verdict, the jury may be allowed to ask the judge questions about the case, including specific testimony. The jury is also allowed to review photos from the alleged crime scene. However, they may not consult with or talk to others who are not on the jury or who are from the outside world.
The jury must begin any debate about the case with the presumption that the defendant is innocent. They then must determine if the evidence they were presented with proves beyond a reasonable doubt (or by whichever burden is placed on a case), that the defendant is guilty. The standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the very highest standard of proof in the law.
Once the jury has decided, their deliberations are over, and they let the judge know. The case may be ruled a mistrial if the jurors do not unanimously agree on the defendant’s guilt or non-guilt. The case may be re-tried with a new jury, which means the process would have to happen again in a new trial.
6. The Verdict
The next step is a sentencing hearing if a jury unanimously finds a defendant guilty. This usually occurs on a different date. The case is dismissed immediately if a jury unanimously finds a defendant not guilty.
Believe it or not, California law allows defendants to try to set aside their convictions and obtain a new trial even if a jury enters a guilty verdict after a trial. In these cases, the defendants’ attorneys would have to make a motion for a new trial.
7. The Sentencing Hearing
As mentioned above, if a person is convicted of DUI charges, they will have a sentencing hearing. At this hearing, both sides will have a chance to present arguments to the judge on what they believe the correct sentence should be.
A skilled California DUI defense attorney will present factors that they believe show a sentence should not be very harsh. In contrast, the district attorney will present elements they feel should lead to a more substantial punishment. These are mitigating and aggravating factors, respectively.
A judge will consider each side’s arguments but then has the discretion to determine a defendant’s specific sentence. However, a judge must follow basic sentencing guidelines, which vary depending on factors such as the DUI offense being charged and the county in which the case is taking place.
Some DUI Defendants Forgo the Right to a Jury Trial to Have a Judge Decide Their Case Instead
Because of how long, involved, and costly a trial can be, some DUI defendants will forgo their right to a jury trial and let a judge decide their case. When this happens, they may have already agreed to a plea bargain with the district attorney. Alternatively, they may want a quick decision to move past the situation. Or, perhaps, they are concerned about how a jury would decide their case.
How Jury Trials and Bench (Judge) Trials Differ
As discussed in this post, a jury trial is where a selected group of citizens decide whether the prosecution’s evidence has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty of DUI charges.
In a bench trial, there is no jury. A judge oversees the case and decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Both types of trials follow the same rules and procedures. However, they differ in a few ways.
First, there is only one person in a bench trial, as opposed to a group making a decision in a jury trial. Second, a bench trial will usually take less time because there are no jury selection processes, jury instructions, and other time-consuming formalities. Third, a judge will have a better legal understanding because they are familiar with criminal law and trials. The judge will likely not be swayed by emotional or other factors which can improperly influence jurors.
Should the Defendant Testify?
Whether a defendant should testify in their criminal case is a sensitive decision. On the one hand, a person may wish to have the opportunity to defend themselves, but on the other hand, they may not want to waive to avoid self-incrimination, which is a protected right under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. constitution.
Once a defendant testifies or discloses self-incriminating information, they cannot raise the privilege. Once waived, individuals cannot assert the Fifth Amendment privilege, and a prosecutor may cross-examine their testimony and elicit even more incriminating information.
Thus, this decision should not be undertaken lightly and should only be discussed within the context of your attorney-client relationship.
Is a DUI Jury Trial Right for Me?
A DUI trial may or may not be suitable for your case. An experienced attorney can help determine if you should proceed with this option. Your case may be solid, and the prosecution’s case may be weak. The opposite may also be true. Alternatively, you or your attorney may feel that the plea bargains being offered may not be fair or reasonable and that going to trial may lead to a better deal.
Every case is different, and the analysis of a California DUI lawyer can be invaluable in making this decision.
Hiring a California DUI Attorney
California has some of the most strict DUI laws and punishments for drunk driving in the United States. Representing yourself is never your best option. Many California DUI attorneys, such as the Law Offices of Taylor & Taylor offer free consultations. You can get answers to your questions and legal advice from a trusted legal advocate for individuals facing criminal allegations.
You should never go it alone when dealing with DUI charges. An experienced attorney can help you achieve far more positive consequences than are likely if you do not have the advice of legal counsel. If you’d like to learn more, you can speak to a DUI Defense attorney today by reaching out to us at this link.
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