Many individuals facing DUI / DWI charges believe in a common misconception: There is no point in having a jury trial if you have been arrested for drinking and driving. But there are often very good reasons to take a DUI case to trial when represented by an attorney who specializes in drunk driving defense. A better understanding of how a jury trial is conducted can ease the concerns of anyone considering the prospect of taking his or her case to trial.
The Constitution guarantees each criminal defendant the right to a speedy and public trial. Because of the busy calendars found in many courthouses, the right to a speedy trial has been given specific guidelines. In California, a DUI defendant who is in jail has the right to a trial that begins within 30 days of arraignment. A defendant who is not in custody has the right to start trial within 45 days of arraignment. These time limits can be waived by the defendant, and often are extended at the request of the client or their criminal defense attorney to allow for time to do an investigation into every aspect of the case and file any necessary motions.
Once a trial date is set, it is usually expressed as a “0 of 10 date” meaning that the DUI defendant’s speedy trial rights will not be violated if the trial begins on the trial date or within 10 days of that date. If the trial does not begin on or before the expiration of the last day for trial, the case must be dismissed. If the last day for trial falls on a weekend day or holiday, the next court day is the last day.
There are several distinct aspects to a DUI / DWI trial. These include pretrial motions, also known as motions in limine; and jury selection, where 12 impartial jurors are selected. During this process, both the defense and prosecution engage in voir dire, or examination of prospective jurors, to determine the juror’s qualifications for service. At this time jurors may be excused “for cause” or at the discretion of the attorneys, which is known as a peremptory challenge.
Once the jury is selected, both sides will begin opening statements. The next phase is the examination and cross examination of prosecution witnesses and experts; examination and cross examination of defense witnesses and experts; closing arguments of both the defense and prosecution; and jury deliberations and, finally, the verdict. A defendant who is found guilty will then be sentenced.
With a carefully crafted defense, a defendant in a drunk driving case can prevail at trial. A skilled DUI / DWI criminal defense lawyer will be experienced in every phase of the court proceeding, and can help determine whether it is better to take the case to a jury trial or negotiate a plea bargain.