Bench Trial or Jury Trial in Atlanta DUI Cases
After the arraignment and plea bargain negotiations, you may have decided, based on your attorney's advice, not to plead guilty and to go through with your case. This will make the prosecutor prove all the elements of the criminal charge of driving under the influence. The prosecutor will have to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” to the fact-finder in the case.
For most DUI offenses, your guilt may be determined by a jury of your peers, or by the judge in a bench trial. A bench trial will have no jury, with the judge determining your guilt or innocence. In a jury trial, usually consisting of 6 or 12 people, regular people will hear the evidence, and determine whether or not the state has met the high burden of proving “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you should be convicted. A DUI case is one of the most commonly held court trials in Georgia. As a result, DUI trials may a long backlog, and it may take a year before you ever go to trial.
DUI Jury Trial
Before a jury trial begins, your DUI lawyer may file some pretrial motions, so that unfairly gathered evidence may be suppressed. This may include chemical test results, or field sobriety test results. After the pretrial motions, there may be additional plea bargaining, or in some cases, the prosecutor may drop the case entirely based on the limited evidence in support of their position.
The next part of your trial may be gathering the people together who will form the jury in your case. This selection process starts with the State of Georgia sending out jury duty notices, to get a pool of people to pull from for a jury in individual cases to be heard on a specific date. Of course, many people ignore their jury duty notice, and some provide valid reasons why they will not be able to serve as a juror. Whoever show up to court on the day your jury selection is to begin will be the pool of individuals chosen to make up your jury.
A jury is not composed of randomly selected people. The judge, prosecutor and your DUI defense lawyer have a role in deciding who will be the people to hear your case. The prosecutor may try and strike potential jurors, and your DUI lawyer may try and strike other jurors who appear to be partial to the defense or the prosecution. This often consists of mini-interview question and answer sessions to get a feel for each juror. Each side may have a limited number of peremptory challenges, to automatically strike a potential juror.
The prosecutor may be looking for people who have a favorable view of the police, or consider a trial a foregone conclusion that the defendant is guilty. Pro-prosecution jurors in a DUI trial may be former police officers themselves, or firefighters or court personnel. Other pro-prosecution jurors may not drink alcohol, or be victims of drunk drivers. Additionally, you may get the feeling that a specific juror just does not like you. Make sure you communicate this to your lawyer, since you can often sense whether certain people dislike you for whatever reason.
Alternatively, pro-defense jurors (who may be more likely to find in your favor) may include people with compassion, people who drink alcohol themselves, or blue collar workers like truck drivers or people in construction. It is important for your lawyer to try and secure a jury who are not prejudiced against you, since that is not how our justice system is supposed to work.
After a jury is chosen, your case may begin. The prosecutor goes first, since the burden of proof is on the state. The prosecutor will have to prove all elements of the charge against you, beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor may briefly lay out their case, and your DUI lawyer will follow, stating what the defense thinks the facts in the case will show.
The prosecutor may then proceed with presenting their case through evidence of impaired driving, chemical test results, and the statements of the arresting officer as a witness. Your DUI lawyer will be able to cross-examine the police officer witness. This is their chance to point out inconsistencies, mistakes, and flaws in the police officer's testimony.
Your DUI lawyer will also be able to present evidence, including additional or contradictory chemical tests, and offer other reasons why the police got the case wrong, and are not able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. This could include the testimony of expert witnesses, who can speak with authority about chemical tests, field sobriety tests, or other issues. The prosecutor can cross-examine the defense witnesses as well.
Eventually, each side will finish with closing arguments. First the prosecutor, then the DUI defense lawyer, then the prosecutor again, with the last word. At that point, your conviction may depend on the jury. The judge will read the charging instructions to the jury, and they will decide the case. The jury may deliberate for 10 minutes, or they may deliberate all day. When the jury is finally in agreement, a verdict of guilty or not guilty will be read on each criminal count.
DUI Bench Trial
A “bench trial” is so-called because it will be the judge who decides your case, without a jury. In a jury trial, the judge may decide what kind of evidence is admissible, and decide questions of law, but the jury decides questions of fact. Questions of fact include how much weight to give a witnesses testimony, and how credible the presented evidence may be. In a bench trial, the judge takes on both roles.
In some cases, the jury may be prejudiced against the accused, based on the crime allegedly committed, or even their appearance. Another example of a time when you and your lawyer may prefer a bench trial is if your case is very complicated. Sometimes an overly complex case can confuse the jury. Generally, bench trials are also faster.
In most cases, a jury trial is preferable, since you'll have 6 people deciding your case instead of just one. This gives you six more chances to evaluate the credibility of a witness, the weight of the evidence, and to express reasonable doubt that your may be guilty. However, this will depend on a number of factors in your case, and should be discussed with your DUI lawyer.
Your DUI lawyer may be familiar with the judge, the prosecutor and the arresting police officers in your DUI case. Similarly, the judge will likely know the prosecutor, police officer, and even your defense attorney. Your DUI lawyers experience with a particular set of these people may help inform the decision of whether to go with the judge as fact-finder, or the jury.
Atlanta DUI Trial Defense Attorney
A DUI trial can be complex, and depending on the facts of your case, you may prefer a jury trial over a bench trial. If you have the benefit of an experienced DUI lawyer who exclusively handles DUI cases, they will already know a lot about the judge who may be hearing your case. With more than 20 years of Georgia DUI experience, I have successfully represented thousands of people charged with a DUI, including jury and bench trials.