Is a Bench Trial or Jury Trial Better for My DUI?
It can take a lot of time after a DUI arrest before your case ever goes to trial, or if it goes to trial at all. If you are handling the case on your own, you may have already had your license suspended, and are tempted to take whatever plea deal the prosecutor offers rather than face a trial. However, if you have an Atlanta DUI lawyer, they may have already saved your license during an administrative license suspension hearing, and now they have pointed out some of the strengths in your case. As a result, you may feel more confident in going forward with a trial, to try and win your case.
Unfortunately, DUI cases are some of the most common trials in Georgia, and there can be a long backlog of these cases. Even if you're ready for trial, you may have to wait for months until that day finally arrives when you can fight for your rights, and make sure you get the justice you deserve. But before your trial starts, you and your defense attorney will need to decide between a jury trial and a bench trial. A “bench trial” refers to the judge sitting “at the bench.” In this kind of trial, the judge is acting both as the trier of fact, and as the trier of law.
Ask Your DUI Lawyer About the Judge and Prosecutor in Your Case
Why would you have to decide between two kinds of trials in your DUI case? Because every case is unique. Sometimes you have the facts on your side, sometimes you have the law on your side. What you should always consider, is to have an experienced and local Atlanta DUI lawyer by your side. Their experience in DUI court can go a long way in helping to predict how likely you are to succeed.
Different judges may handle cases a little differently. So do different prosecutors and police officers. The experience you DUI lawyer has in understanding how these people may react to the facts in your case may help you determine if you should have a jury trial, or a bench trial. But what is the difference between the two?
Most DUI Trials Are Jury Trials
A jury trial is something most of us are generally familiar with, even if courtroom movie scenes emphasise drama over reality. But they involve two sides presenting their case before a jury, to try and get the jury to rule for their side. Sometimes, there will be issues decided without the jury present, for example, to determine whether evidence is admissible. In the end, the jury will give their verdict. This is a simple description of a jury trial, and before you know which kind of trial you should pursue, it is important to understand how much more goes into a jury trial.
With TV shows, they usually don't give a good indication of how long the criminal court process can take. After deciding to go to trial you may wait months before you get your trial date. Even after you get a trial date, it may be rescheduled or delayed. Having to wait this long may make you nervous, but it is all part of a typical DUI trial process.
Whether or not you've served as a juror, you likely have received a jury duty notice in the mail at some point. Some people just toss their jury notice, and other people try and find a way out of jury duty. On your trial date, it will be the people who show up for jury duty that may make their way onto your jury. There may be one jury trial going on that day, or there may be a dozen. The judge, prosecutor and defense attorney will go through a process of picking a jury, called voir dire.
Your attorney will be trying to get a feel for which jurors will be compassionate. Someone who understands that just because the state says you are guilty, does not make it so. Someone who will treat you as a person and not as a criminal. Someone who will give you a fair chance, and let justice come out. You lawyer will do this through trying to strike certain jurors who are impartial and cannot be balanced. Your lawyer also has a limited number of “peremptory challenges” to strike other jurors.
Of course the prosecutor will be doing the same thing, but for their side. This may come together quickly, or could be more complicated. Together with the judge, eventually a suitable jury will be compiled. For many DUIs in Georgia, a jury may consist of either 6 or 12 jurors. They will be the one's responsible for determining your guilt or innocence in the eyes of the law.
After opening statements, each side will present their case. The prosecutor has the burden of proof, to show beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty of the crime of driving under the influence. They will likely have a police officer as a witness, to say what they observed before and during the arrest. Your lawyer will then get the chance to challenge the police officer on cross-examination. They can point out problems with the police officer's testimony, and how it may conflict with other evidence.
Then you will be able to present evidence, including witness testimony, contrary breath test evidence, and scientific experts to offer their opinion on the matter. Finally, both sides will finish with closing arguments, to sum up their theories on the case. Then the jury will deliberate until they've reached a decision.
In Some Cases You May Want a Bench Trial
The alternative is the bench trial, where only the judge decides the questions of law and fact in your case. There will be no jury, which often makes for a much faster trial. But whether you want a bench trial may all depend on the judge, the potential jury, the prosecutor, the police, and the facts in your case.
Some judges may be especially tough on DUI defendants. In that case you may not want a bench trial before that judge, but would rather let a jury of your peers decide your case. However, sometimes the jury may have preconceived notions about a person just from the way they look or the way they speak. In these cases, a fair judge may be a better judge of the facts than a prejudiced jury. However, this is an important decision, and you should be sure to ask any questions you have when talking to your DUI defense lawyer.
Atlanta DUI Trial Lawyer
If you have been arrested for a DUI in Atlanta, you don't have to accept the penalties of a conviction. If you end up taking your case to trial, your DUI lawyer will be able to weigh the positives and negatives of a jury trial versus a bench trial, so you will get the best chance for success. You lawyer will defend you throughout the process, to make sure you get the fair treatment you deserve.
As an experienced and dedicated DUI defense lawyer who has built my career on defending people charged with drunk driving, I understand what a DUI can mean for you and your family. I will help guide you through the administrative proceeding and criminal trial. Call my office anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with any questions you have about your DUI case.