Montgomery County DUI Jury Trials
One of the most important decisions when facing Montgomery County DUI charges is whether to have a bench or jury trial. For help building a defense and selecting the best procedure for your case, reach out to an experienced DUI attorney today.
Jury Trial vs. Bench Trial
In a bench trial, a judge makes a decision about whether the state met its burden beyond a reasonable doubt. At a jury trial, a jury of 12 individuals must come to a unanimous decision about whether the prosecutor proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In Montgomery County DUI cases, it is rare that a lawyer suggests that their client has a jury trial. Driving Under the Influence charges have their initial jurisdiction in district court, which does not have jury trials. Having a district court trial with a judge gives a defendant two opportunities at the case. If they do not like the results a judge gives at the district court level, they usually have the right to appeal the case in circuit court and have a jury trial there.
Most of the time, DUI cases involve arguments founded in law instead of arguments founded in fact. Therefore, even if a case is transferred to the circuit court’s jurisdiction, a defense attorney might suggest their client has a bench trial rather than a jury trial because jury trials can be time-consuming. When the issue is based in law and not in facts, a judge makes decisions about the issues, regardless of whether the trial is set before a judge or a jury.
When is a Jury Trial Preferable?
Common issues that might help a DUI lawyer decide to take a case to a jury trial might be if there are concerns about whether the client was impaired by alcohol. If a breathalyzer is going to be admissible according to the judge, a jury trial is not helpful because breathalyzer tests are per se evidence of a criminal violation. When a person refuses a breathalyzer test, that might be a better case for a jury because arguments could be made to a jury about whether the individual was under the influence of alcohol.
Pros and Cons
The benefit of a jury trial for a DUI case is that the state must convince 12 people unanimously that they met their burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt rather than trying to convince only one individual they met their burden of proof. That is much more difficult to do from a defense perspective. A defendant has a better chance of the state not meeting its burden beyond a reasonable doubt when 12 people must agree on the verdict.
On the other hand, jury trials can be time-consuming. If the issue is an issue that is a matter of law rather than a matter of fact, there is no advantage in having a jury trial because the judge makes major decisions about whether the case is won or lost based on the evidence a jury may consider.
Jury selection may include the jurors being asked a series of questions through voir dire, an initial examination of a juror by a judge or attorney. Prospective jurors respond to the questions that provide information to the court, defense attorneys, and prosecutors about themselves, personal or professional, and their experiences with the criminal justice system. The attorneys and prosecutors make selections about which jurors they would like on the jury and which they prefer to leave off based on the information gathered during voir dire.
Why Work With a Local Montgomery County DUI lawyer?
A local DUI lawyer in Montgomery County knows the prosecutors, judges, the general environment of the court system, and the makeup of the trial. Montgomery County juries are usually well-educated, well-versed, and have a basic understanding of the criminal justice system. Consulting with an experienced attorney may help a Montgomery County defendant understand the system and make an educated decision on whether to select a bench or jury trial.