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Should I Get a Judge or Jury for a DUI Case?

If you are facing criminal charges, you have the right to defend yourself in court. Under the legal system in California, you can request a jury to hear your case. A jury is made up of people in your community, and you can present your case directly to them. 

However, under California criminal law, you can also have your case heard by a judge instead of a jury. In some situations, it may be better to choose one or the other. It is important to understand your rights before deciding to take your case to court. If you were arrested for a DUI in Oakland, talk to an experienced East Bay DUI defense attorney for help.

How Does a Criminal Trial Work for a DUI in California?

If you are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in California, you can face criminal charges. Even though a DUI is a traffic-related offense, it is usually charged as a misdemeanor crime. However, in some situations, it can be a felony. 

When Does a DUI Case Go to Trial?

There are a few different ways your case can end. You could plead guilty and be sentenced by the judge. You could also have your case dropped by the prosecutor if your attorney challenges the case and the prosecutor doesn't think they can win. However, if you don't plead guilty and the prosecutor doesn't drop the charges, you may end up at trial. 

Most people are familiar with courtroom trials from TV shows and movies. However, the entire process of a trial can be long and unfamiliar for most people. In general, trials are either jury trials or bench trials. A jury trial has the judge presiding and ruling on matters of law but the jury are the fact-finders who can decide your case. In a bench trial, the judge is both the fact-finder and rules on the laws. 

Jury Trials in Oakland

Anyone who is a U.S. citizen, 18 years old or older, and who can understand English can serve as a juror in California. Jury service is generally done by sending a jury summons through the mail. Many people groan after getting notice of jury duty but others may look forward to the chance to take part in the justice system. 

Jury duty requires showing up to the court on a certain date to be part of the jury pool. Judges in court draw from the jury pool to find enough qualifying jurors to make up a jury in criminal and certain civil cases. The process then goes through jury selection. Jurors are told of the process and have to swear to do their duty. 

Voir dire is the process where the judge and attorneys talk to each juror and ask questions to find out whether they can be fair and impartial. They can eliminate jurors for cause and can eliminate a limited number of jurors without cause, known as a peremptory challenge. When they have enough jurors (and in some cases, additional alternates), the jury trial can begin.

How Does a Jury Decide My Case?

The role of the jury in a criminal trial is to decide questions of fact. This can include deciding who to believe when there are two sides to a story. The prosecutor has to prove each element of the charge "beyond a reasonable doubt." If the jury has any doubts about even one of the elements, the defendant should be found not guilty. The jury's decision has to be unanimous, when everyone agrees, to get a verdict.

Bench Trials for California DUI Cases

A bench trial is decided by the judge without the help of a jury. When there are facts in dispute, the judge makes the decision. The judge still has to follow the law and can only convict a person when the prosecutor has proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. One main difference is that bench trials are usually much shorter because it doesn't have to involve the jury process. Talk to your attorney about when a judge deciding your case could give you a better chance than a jury. 

When to Choose a Bench Trial or Jury Trial

The same case presented to a judge or a jury could come back with different results. In general, two different juries could come to opposite conclusions about the same set of facts. Juries can be unpredictable. 

Juries can be more emotional than a judge who has gone through hundreds or thousands of drunk driving cases. If they are sympathetic to your case, they may be more likely to side with you. However, if you have a strong case but the jury doesn't seem to like you, this could also influence their decision. 

Juries are also just made up of normal people from the community. If your case is complex or involves technical information about chemistry and physiology, it could confuse the jury to the point where they aren't making an informed decision. Depending on your case, this could help or hurt your chances to win. 

Talk to an East Bay DUI Defense Lawyer About Your Case

Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of East Bay DUI defense experience and understands how much is at stake after a drunk driving arrest. She understands how to approach the individual case and whether you could benefit from a jury or bench trial. If you are facing DUI charges anywhere in Oakland, Alameda County, or Contra Costa County, contact Lynn Gorelick. 

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