Under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” The right to a trial by jury in criminal cases is a right that is protected by the Constitution but it is not the only option. In some cases, the accused may want to accept a plea deal or have a bench trial instead. In many counties, jury trials have been delayed or suspended due to COVID.
After a drunk driving arrest, the driver has a number of legal options. The most important action after a DUI arrest is to act quickly, to contact an experienced DUI defense attorney who can challenge your license suspension. Your DUI attorney can also explain your options for plea bargains, defending your case, and the option of presenting your case before a jury. Contact East Bay DUI defense attorney Lynn Gorelick today.
Jury Trial Process
The jury acts as the factfinders in a legal case, to make a determination in how a criminal or civil trial is to be decided. The jury is generally made up of a random selection of people from the community. The jury is selected from a wider pool of the population to hear the presentations of the plaintiffs and defendants, and declare the truth upon the evidence before them. The jury process involves:
- Jury selection
- Trial process
- Jury deliberations
In California, a criminal jury can hear misdemeanor or felony criminal cases. The jury is generally made up of 12 jurors. For the defendant to be convicted, all members of the jury must come to a unanimous decision. If the jury cannot come to a unanimous decision, they will stay in jury deliberations until they come to a decision. If even one juror does not think the driver in a DUI case was guilty of drunk driving, the driver should not be convicted.
Jury Selection in California
Many people in California dread getting notice of jury duty. The jury reporting time and date may be inconvenient, interrupting work, school, or a vacation. Many people try to get out of jury duty, even without having a real reason. Even when you do respond to jury duty, you may end up sitting around for an hour or two and are then told to go home. Part of the jury selection process involves having a pool of enough people to be able to select a jury. This is why jury duty can be so unpredictable.
If a jury trial is going forward, the judge will request a panel of prospective jurors for jury selection. The jurors are told about their role in the judicial process and have to swear to answer jury selection questions truthfully.
"Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will accurately and truthfully answer, under penalty of perjury, all questions propounded to you concerning your qualifications and competency to serve as a trial juror in the matter pending before this court, and that failure to do so may subject you to criminal prosecution?"
The next part of the process is known as “voir dire,” where the judge and attorneys ask the jurors about their beliefs and ideas to understand whether or not the juror can be fair and impartial. For example, the defense attorney may want to exclude a juror who is a retired sheriff's deputy because they suspect the juror will be biased. The prosecutor may want to exclude a juror who was a childhood friend of the defendant.
After the judge and attorneys can come to an agreement on a jury pool of 12 people (sometimes with alternates), then the jury process will move forward. The jury will be sworn to an oath and the case will proceed.
During a DUI Trial in California
During a DUI trial, the jury hears from the defendant and the prosecution. Jurors are not supposed to talk to others about the case or make up their minds before hearing all the evidence presented. The case generally begins with the Alameda County or Contra Costa County district attorney laying out the case and the criminal charges. The defense attorney then responds with their version of the case.
The attorneys then go back and forth presenting evidence and witness testimony, with each side having a chance to respond. At the end of the case, the attorneys give their closing statements, with a final summary of the case. Finally, the judge will give the jury a specific set of instructions, to apply their findings of the case to the state DUI laws. In a criminal DUI case, the defendant has to be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of all elements of the offense, in order to be convicted.
Jury Deliberation in DUI Cases
After the closing statements and judge's instructions, the jury goes to the jury room for deliberations. When deliberating, the presiding juror and the rest of the jury discuss the charges and judge's instructions. Every juror is supposed to have an opportunity to participate in the discussion. Jurors should also feel free to change their minds during jury deliberation when the jury eventually comes to a verdict. All 12 jurors must come to a unanimous agreement to convict a defendant of a crime in California.
If the jury cannot come to a unanimous agreement, they are supposed to continue discussing the case until they all agree. If the jury cannot come to a unanimous verdict and a judge determines the jury will not come to a unanimous decision, the judge may end up dismissing the jury and the case may have to go to trial again with a new jury.
Is a Jury Trial or Bench Trial Better for My DUI?
The defendant in a California criminal drunk driving case generally has the option of electing a jury trial or a trial before the judge. A trial before the judge is known as a “bench trial.” The judge is the factfinder of the trial instead of a jury made up of one's peers. In most criminal cases, the defendant has a better chance of their case being heard before a jury instead of the judge. However, in some types of cases, a bench trial may be a better option. Talk to your criminal defense attorney about which type of trial is better for your DUI case.
East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 38 years of DUI defense experience and understands how to approach each case for the greatest chance for success. Representing individuals in Alameda County and Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local DUI laws, police officers, and the prosecutors involved.