Georgia DUI Trials: Bench Trial or Jury Trial
For some DUIs, the case will never end up at trial. If your Atlanta DUI lawyer can get you a really good plea deal, you may decide to take it, and be done with you DUI case. Alternatively, through motions challenging the state's evidence against you, your DUI lawyer may have gotten a lot of that evidence thrown out, and the prosecutor will drop the case against you. But if the prosecutor won't budge, and insists on prosecuting the case against you, you may be going to trial.
Most DUI trials only last day or two or three, but it can take months of waiting before you finally get a trial date. Be prepared for schedule changes and cancellations as the court tries to juggle the hundreds of DUI cases on the docket at any given time. After all, DUI cases are some of the most common trial cases held in Atlanta.
When it does come time for your trial, your DUI lawyer may discuss with you the options of going with a jury trial, or opting instead for a bench trial. Although a bench trial may be less common in DUI defense cases, there are times when it may actually be preferable. This is where having an experienced, local Atlanta DUI lawyer can be a real benefit. They have likely appeared dozens of times before all the judges, prosecutors, and police officers in local DUI cases.
What is a Bench Trial?
A bench trial is not the type of case we see in most courtroom TV dramas, because there is no jury. Instead, it is the judge who looks at the evidence, listens to the witnesses, and hears each sides arguments before deciding the outcome. You may be wary of leaving your case all up to one person, instead of a jury of your peers. However, the facts of your case, and the judge and prosecutor involved may make a bench trial a better option for you.
Sometimes, when the defendant does not appear to be a sympathetic character. People judge others all the time, and often times, they end up wrong about what they really thought about the person. Some people can have a prejudice against people with a lot of tattoos or piercings, no matter how kind and honest the person actually is. Some people may have a prejudice against people who dress a certain way, have certain hairstyles, or speak a certain way. Sometimes it can be a better option to take your case to the judge rather than risk prejudicial judgment based on the jury's unfounded perceptions.
In other cases, there may be complicated legal or technical issues involved. Some jurors may have a problem understanding just how complex the case is, and may get confused. Sometimes, a complex case can be better determined by a judge with experience handling complex DUI cases.
What is a Jury Trial?
A jury trial is the kind we more commonly see on those courtroom television shows. A group of “our peers” sits in the jury box during most of the court case, listening carefully to the arguments of the lawyers, the statements of the witnesses, and any other evidence admissible in the case. But how does a jury really come together, and how can it be better to have a jury trial than a bench trial?
Jury's in a Georgia DUI case will usually consist of 6 to 12 individuals selected from the daily jury pool. Some people don't show up for jury duty, so the pool is comprised of the people who actually showed up to the courthouse after getting their jury duty notice in the mail. This is made up from eligible individuals from the surrounding community, and intended to be a group of your peers.
The jury selection process can be complicated. It is not just a random collection of 6 people. Instead they are chosen through the voir dire process, involving questioning by the prosecutor, your defense lawyer, with some determinations made by the judge. Each lawyer is trying to get a juror that tends to lean towards their side. The prosecutor is looking for people who are pro-prosecution, and your defense lawyer is looking for people who are pro-defense. It may be hard to make this determination through a couple of simple questions, but your experienced DUI lawyer understands what to look for.
As an example, people in law enforcement, or with family in law enforcement may tend towards the side of the prosecutor. In a DUI case, people who don't drink or people who know someone who died in a drunk driver-related accident may be prejudiced against the defendant. However, there may be jurors who will be more sympathetic to your cause, including people who are not afraid of enjoying a couple drinks, single people, or blue-collar workers. Of course, the jurors job is not the only determining factor, but may be an indicator of how they would treat the defendant.
Each lawyer may try to strike potential jurors for cause, if they have a reason to believe the juror cannot be impartial. Some reasons for this include if the juror knows the defendant or police officer involved, or if they say they will surely decide one way or the other.
After striking jurors for cause, each lawyer will have a limited number of “peremptory challenges” where they can strike a potential juror. They usually don't have to give a reason for this, and can strike jurors who they think may be prejudiced in favor of the other side. However, they can only do this a limited number of times. From the people who remain, you will have the jury who will decide your case.
Unlike a bench trial, where the judge will decide both the issues of fact, and the issues of law, the jury will only decide issues of fact. This may be confusing, but think of issues of fact as questions about how reliable some evidence is, how strong the evidence is, and how credible a witness is. That is what the jury will decide. For example, a judge may determine whether a piece of evidence is admissible, but the jury will decide how much weight to give that piece of evidence.
Some admissibility issues may be determined through motions, so that the jury never sees this part of the trial. If the prosecution wants to introduce a chemical test, but your defense attorney has a basis for excluding that evidence, then they will file a motion to suppress that faulty test, so that the jury never hears about it. The jury should only see the evidence that is admissible, according to the law. All of this back and forth between the judge deciding certain matters and the presentation of case to the jury can make jury trials take longer. Although in most cases, an Atlanta DUI jury trial will only last a couple of days.
Throughout the jury trial, the prosecutor and your DUI defense lawyer will go back and forth, presenting their case to the jury, introducing evidence, questioning witnesses and cross-examining witnesses. Finally, after everything is done, each side will sum up their case. It is the prosecutor's job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime, according to each element of the crime. If the jury has a reasonable doubt, as to any of the necessary elements, you should be found not guilty.
Which DUI Trial is Right for You?
Repeated experience with different judges may give your lawyer a real sense of which judges may be tough on DUIs, and which may be more fair. They may also know which judges are sticklers for the rules, and won't let a cop get away with sloppy police work. They may know which judges favor admitting evidence versus those who don't want questionable evidence to come before the jury. Who your judge is may help determine whether you want a bench trial or a jury trial.
This experience extends to familiarity with the police and prosecutors as well. After going through a number of trials with the same cast of characters, your DUI lawyer may know which prosecutors are really impressive before a jury, and who the jury doesn't really seem to care for. Your DUI lawyer may have seen the same police officers give unconvincing testimony or stumble over their words. All this experience should be taken into consideration whether you want to go for a bench trial or jury trial.
If you got arrested for a DUI, and are going to trial, having an experienced and local DUI lawyer can make a difference in your case. They understand how a trial proceeds from start to finish, what the jury may be looking for, and what the judge may be looking for. Based on your individual case, the strengths and weaknesses of different judges and prosecutors, we will make the best decision for a winning outcome. As experienced Atlanta DUI attorneys, we have dedicated our professional careers to defending people charged with drunk driving offenses. We will fight to defend you in any DUI trial, so call me today.