Jury selection is a critical aspect of any drunk driving case. An experienced DUI / DWI criminal defense attorney will work hard to ensure that a panel of fair, impartial jurors is impaneled to decide each client’s case.
In criminal cases, 12 jurors are selected, along with one or two alternate jurors. In order for a defendant to be convicted of drunk driving, the jury must unanimously agree that the prosecutor has proved each element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt, he or she is entitled to a verdict of not guilty. If the jurors cannot agree to one verdict, a hung jury occurs, and the case is dismissed. Even though it is not a “not guilty” verdict, a hung jury is still a win for the defense. It’s only necessary to convince one or two jurors of the weakness of the prosecution’s case.
In the jury selection process, a panel of potential jurors is sent to a courtroom. The clerk of the court will the swear the panel, which means the jurors stand, raise their right hands, and take an oath to truthfully answer questions that the lawyers ask them about their ability and qualifications to serve as jurors. For speedy trial purposes, this is also when the trial begins.
The judge will usually “time-qualify” the panel, which means he tells them what type of case it is, how long it is expected to last “Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases typically last three to four days” and asks if anyone has conflicts that would prevent them from being jurors in the DUI trial.
Then, a number of prospective jurors will be called at random and seated in the jury box. The judge usually asks each juror to answer several questions that are on a bulletin board at the front of the court, such as their area of residence, their occupation, whether they are married or have children, whether they have ever served on a jury before, and if so, what type of case it was, and whether the jury was able to reach a verdict.
The potential jurors typically fill out questionnaires that give the judge and attorneys an idea of whether a juror can be fair and impartial. The judge will then ask each juror to answer the questions out loud, and to elaborate on any answers if necessary. If any of the jurors’ answers suggest they are biased or cannot be fair, the juror can be challenged “for cause”.
It is not easy to have a juror excused for cause, because even if a juror seems biased “because of relatives who are police officers or having been the victim of a drunk driver” the judge will ask the potential juror if he or she can put aside those feelings and be fair to both sides. If the juror says yes, he or she will not be excused for cause, even if fair and impartial service seems impossible to observers.
After the judge has asked the jurors questions, the lawyers are given an opportunity to speak to the potential jurors. This is an important stage in the DUI / DWI jury trial, because it is the first opportunity for the defense lawyer to connect with the jurors and build a rapport with them. It is important for the DUI defense attorney to make a good first impression and get the jurors to like him or her, which helps them to like the client. There is usually a strict time limit on how long the attorneys can talk to the jurors and ask them questions, so it is important to take advantage of this time by planting some key issues in the jurors’ minds that will be discussed further in opening and closing statements.
After the DUI / DWI defense lawyer questions the panel, the prosecutor does the same. Finally, at the end of the first round of questioning by the lawyers, the judge gives the lawyers the opportunity (outside the presence of the jurors) to challenge jurors for cause.
The judge will then ask each lawyer about if they wish to use any of their preemptory challenges. This is done in alternating turns, usually beginning with the prosecutor. The prosecutor will then indicate which of the 12 jurors they wish to excuse. After that person is asked to leave, the DUI defense lawyer has the next challenge; after the defense lawyer excuses a juror, the prosecutor excuses another if they wish, and so on. In California, the criminal defense attorney only gets 10 preemptory challenges. The jury is selected once both the prosecutor and defense attorney accept the 12 people who are in the jury box, or once both sides run out of preemptory challenges.
A good DUI / DWI attorney will understand the importance of jury selection, and will be able to use their experience and knowledge to connect with the jurors, introduce key issues, and make a good first impression on behalf of his client charged with drunk driving.