How a DUI Jury Trial Works

A DUI jury trial follows a set pattern that is similar to many of the steps found in a DUI bench trial. A jury trial, however, has more stages or steps that must be completed in a specific order and fashion. Hence, jury trials usually take longer to complete.

The procedure for a jury trial starts with everyone but the jury gathering in a courtroom. You and your DUI defense team gather around one table, while the prosecution and their team gather around another. Only after everyone else is present does the judge enter. The bailiff usually announces the judge coming in. When the judge enters the courtroom, it is expected for you (and everyone else in the courtroom) to stand until you are told to take your seat.

Next, the judge and the lawyers involved with your case may have some preliminary discussions on whether everyone is ready to proceed, or the judge may ask if any unresolved issues need to be discussed before the jury comes in.

Often, some “off the cuff” or lighthearted comments may be made between the attorneys and the judge, so do not be alarmed by this. You need not be annoyed or feel that your attorney is fraternizing with the opponent. The fact that this “familiarity” exists between the judge and your attorney is usually an excellent sign for your case. The more open and related all the attorneys are with each other, the better it will be for your case. (Yes, the judge is one of the attorneys!)

The judge will then more formally ask each side if they are ready to proceed. The prosecutor is typically required to answer first, followed by your DUI attorney. If either says no, your trial is halted so that the judge can look into the cause or the reason for any delay. If it is your side’s fault, this may not be good, unless the prosecutor (by his actions or inactions) caused a problem with your lawyer being ready to proceed.

If some violation of the discovery rules by the prosecutor has occurred, your charges may be dropped. This may also occur if key witnesses for the prosecution are not present. The judge may grant either side an “adjournment” or a reset of the trial date if good cause can be shown that justifies the present delay.

If both announce “ready,” then the judge will instruct the bailiff to bring the prospective DUI jurors into the courtroom. It is usually a good idea to stand any time the jury enters or leaves the courtroom. This is done out of respect for their position as your “decision-makers.”

The bailiff will provide for both the prosecutor and your attorney a brief summary of some personal details of each potential juror. The details deal with job data, marital status, age, etc. The idea behind giving the attorneys some background information is to shorten the process and give both sides some basic information that both lawyers will likely need to know.

Once everyone is again seated, the judge will have some preliminary remarks or “qualifying” questions for the jury. The judge may administer an oath to the jury pool, or may have the clerk do this. Next, the judge may describe for the jury the charges you are facing and the expected duration of the trial.

The judge may ask the jurors some questions, either as a group or individually. Assuming that your state laws permit the attorneys for both sides to ask questions, both sides are then permitted to ask additional questions.

The judge will ask the prosecutor to conduct his or her questions of the jury panel. Often, the prosecutor will stand at a podium in the center of the open space in front of the jury. He or she will first introduce him or herself before asking some general questions that have to do with whether or not any member of the jury pool would have trouble being a disinterested and fair juror. These questions are typically of the type that they can be answered with a “yes” or “no,” with each member of the pool raising his or her number or hand if they are responding.

Once these general questions are finished and the prosecutor has again taken his or her seat, your attorney will stand up, greet the jurors, introduce him or herself and introduce you. Your attorney may ask you to stand briefly for your introduction. He or she will then ask general questions of the jury pool.

During the questioning by either attorney, the other attorney may object to the form or the content of a question. The judge will make a ruling each time that either allows the question or rejects the question as being a proper area for inquiry. The judge may need to confer with the attorneys at the bench (the judge’s elevated desk), or ask the jurors to take a short break outside of the courtroom for purposes of letting both attorneys put all of the details of the challenge or objection “on the record” before making a ruling.

Each attorney may then be allowed to ask each juror individually some very pointed questions, using the information that was divulged during the general questions or taken from the information sheet that each juror completed before coming into court. The prosecution asks his or her individual questions, followed by your attorney, for each potential juror in turn.

It is important for you to take notes as to how you think each potential juror is responding, how forthcoming you think each is being, or how favorable you think each might be toward you, based on demeanor or body language. Before making any peremptory strikes, your attorney will usually take a few minutes to discuss possible jury strikes with you and both explain his or her “rationale” for the proposed strikes, and listen to your thoughts.

At any point in the jury selection process, both your attorney and the prosecutor may be called to the front of the courtroom, to stand just in front of the judge’s bench. It is likely that this is being done to discuss removing a potential juror from the jury pool for cause. They may also be speaking about details of the trial, which are matters that the jury need not hear. These conversations are conducted in hushed tones so that the jurors do not hear the discussions.

The judge may then excuse these selected jurors, without necessarily telling anyone why they are being excused. At some point, the judge may make a point to state “on the record” which jurors were “struck” for cause, and possibly share the reasons for each strike.

After each of the jurors has been asked the more personal questions by both of the lawyers, the judge may then ask a few more questions to satisfy his or her own curiosity. After this, the jury may be asked by the judge to leave the courtroom, and escorted out by the bailiff. The judge gives the attorneys a limited amount of time to consider which jurors to “strike.”

The judge may leave the courtroom for a few minutes as well while the attorneys confer with their “team,” which includes you.

When the judge returns, each lawyer then gets to utilize a certain number of peremptory “strikes.” This means that each attorney is allowed to eliminate a fixed number of the remaining potential jurors for ANY legally valid reason he or she believes would justify excusing a particular juror from the panel. The usual pattern of eliminating jurors starts with the prosecutor going first, followed by the defense, then a second elimination by the prosecution and a second elimination by the defense, and so on.

The bailiff then returns the jury to the courtroom, if they were not already in the courtroom. Once everyone is again seated, the judge tells them who is going to be on the jury, who are going to be alternates and must remain, and which of the potential jurors are excused. Those who are excused leave, and the remaining jurors often rearrange themselves in the jury box as seats open.

This method of jury selection is called the silent strike method. In some jurisdictions, an oral method of each attorney either “excusing” or “accepting” each juror takes place with the prosecutor going first. Again, both sides have limited strikes. The remaining jurors who are not struck are your jury.

The judge then administers yet another oath to the jury. This oath generally has the jurors all confirm that they will fairly and honestly listen to all the evidence, follow the judge’s instructions and render a verdict that “speaks the truth” in your case. The bailiff may distribute pads of paper and pens for the jurors to take notes, if the judge authorizes this to be done.

At this point, the procedure for a bench trial and a jury trial are the same. In order to best explain things to the jurors (who are non-lawyers) instead of to the judge, your DUI-DWI specialist may recommend that you use additional expert witnesses, or the questioning of any witness may differ, but the procedure for conducting the trial is the same whether to a jury or to the judge.

It should be noted that because of the greater length of a jury DUI-DWI trial when compared to a bench trial, the judge may take several “comfort” breaks during the proceedings. You may expect a short break every few hours, and for lunch. If your trial appears to be likely to extend several hours beyond 5 PM or so, the judge may decide to adjourn court for the day. The choice on any of these breaks, when they occur and how long they last, is always at the discretion of the judge. The decision of when to adjourn is also left to the judge’s discretion.

Both sides get a final chance to talk to the jury in closing arguments. However, before closing arguments begin, the judge will usually need to meet with the attorneys to review what “jury instructions” he or she will be giving to the jury after the closing arguments. These jury instructions (or jury “charges”) are the rule of law and procedure that apply to this case and these facts as presented.

Since the prosecution has the burden of proof in criminal cases, the prosecutor will have the option of addressing the jury first and last, as a general rule. Sometimes, the prosecutor will “waive” the initial remarks and save his or her time to conclude the closing argument. This is an advantage, since the prosecutor’s words will then be the last thing the jury hears prior to the judge giving them his or her jury instructions.

It is your constitutional right to have an attorney deliver your closing argument. The purpose of this closing argument is for your attorney to take the facts that have been presented by either side, discuss how the facts presented do not provide credible proof of the crime charged, and put forward to the jury the best possible reason why you should not be found guilty. This is one of the few chances your lawyer will have to ARGUE on your behalf.

More commonly to a jury than before just the judge, your DUI-DWI defense specialist will play an emotion or highlight some issue of how you were treated unfairly during the arrest process.

When both sides have finished, the judge then reads the extensive rules of law that the jury is to apply to the facts that they have heard during your trial. The judge will read the charges against you, word for word. The judge will also read as many as 100 jury instructions to the jury, outlining the jury’s duties and the rules of law they are required to follow. This reading of all of the applicable legal rules can run for 20 to 35 minutes in a garden-variety misdemeanor DUI-DWI case, or easily exceed an hour in a felony prosecution.

The jury is then excused and the bailiff leads them to a jury deliberation room. Once there, following the judge’s instructions, they elect a foreperson who becomes their spokesperson. The jury then decides your guilt or innocence, taking as much time as they need. With most DUI-DWIs, these deliberations typically take at least an hour.
No correlation exists between the length of the deliberations and the likelihood of an acquittal. Do not ask your attorney to guess what the jurors are “doing back there” or how the case will be decided. The jury makes its decision when they make their decision.

After several hours or even several days, the jurors may decide they are making no progress and send written notice of this to the judge. In some situations, the judge may even ask the jurors if they want to keep trying or go home for the night and resume the next day. The judge may also instruct them to keep trying to reach a verdict. As a last resort, the judge may decide to declare a mistrial.

If the jury comes to a verdict, both sides are notified, and everyone again gathers in the courtroom. Because your lawyer must keep him or herself free for this eventuality, he or she cannot do anything else. Whether you are being billed by the hour or were charged a flat fee, this “unknown” time committed to your case is part of that fee.

The judge enters and takes the bench any time issues relating to the jury are being discussed or handled. Once the judge and attorneys have spoken, the bailiff then brings the jury into the courtroom. The judge asks the foreperson if the jury has reached a verdict. If they have, the bailiff takes the written verdict from the foreperson and hands it to the judge. The judge will then make certain that the verdict is in the proper form. Then, the verdict is given back to the bailiff so that the foreperson or the bailiff can “publish” it (read it into the record).

Once the verdict is read, either lawyer has the option of requesting the judge to “poll” the jury. This involves the judge asking each juror one at a time, if this is his or her verdict in the jury room, and whether it is still his or her verdict. This process gives a juror the opportunity to speak up if he or she was pressured into voting in a manner he or she did not believe was the correct verdict.

A “not guilty” verdict is final, once entered, absent a rare request for a “polling” of the jury and a recanting by one or more jurors. The State cannot appeal a “not guilty” verdict rendered by your jury. After the “not guilty” verdict is made the order of the court, you are “discharged” of any responsibility for that charge.

A DUI guilty verdict usually leads to a defense request for the jury to be polled. Absent a juror “recanting” his or her vote, the guilty verdict will typically be made the order of the court. Certain rarely used motions may be asserted by your legal team, but these usually only arise when an unusual mid-trial motion was made by the defense attorney and the judge reserved ruling or initially ruled against your attorney’s motion, only to later change his or her mind after hearing the guilty verdict. Barring this, some form of post-trial motion or appeal can be pursued.

If the jury can never agree on a verdict, and their vote must be unanimous and agreed to by all, a mistrial can and eventually will be granted by the judge. This means that the State can start over to try your case before a new jury. Often, these cases get resolved at this point by negotiations between the attorneys for a reduced charge.

If you are found not guilty, your trial is over. With a drunk driving conviction, like with most other misdemeanors, if you are found guilty, the judge (or the jury in a few jurisdictions) then sentences you to your punishment at the same proceeding. Your attorney may or may not have additional things to present or witnesses to testify if it would be appropriate for your DUI sentencing.