Many people charged with driving under the influence (DUI) don’t realize that they may have the choice between a jury or court trial. A jury trial is one where the prosecution and your attorney choose 12 citizens to hear the evidence in the case and determine if it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. A court trial is one where the judge hears the evidence and makes the determination of guilt. Under the Federal and California Constitutions, an accused has the right to a jury trial in all criminal cases. However, this right can be waived if the accused and the prosecutor agree to a court trial.
In my experience, it is almost always advantageous for a defendant to demand a jury over a court trial in a DUI case. Often judges are former prosecutors, and I generally don’t like prosecutors sitting in judgment of my client. Also, it is usually harder for the prosecutor to convince 12 people than one. A jury gives the defendant 12 chances to be found not guilty of DUI.
There are circumstances where I do believe court trials have advantages, even in DUI cases. First, court trials are almost always much faster than jury trials. A simple
DUI jury trial can take around four days to complete. A court trial can often be done in a day. A more complex DUI jury trial can take weeks. A quicker trial may be less expensive for a defendant. Also, if a particular case is being defended on a legal technicality, and the defendant is not necessarily a likable person, it may be easier to get a judge to judge the case more dispassionately. A jury might choose to overlook a small but essential missing element in the prosecution’s case in order to achieve what they think is “justice”.
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