Unlike other traffic offenses, a DUI charge means potential criminal penalties if convicted. But many cases are resolved before ever going to trial. In many instances some charges are dismissed or reduced via negotiations between counsel, a defendant pleads guilty or the case is settled through a plea deal.
But what if negotiations break down and a case does before a judge and jury, what should a defendant expect from a DUI trial? The following is a breakdown of a typical DUI case, although the procedures and steps in your state may vary.
In any criminal trial, a defendant has the right for the case to be decided by a jury of his or her peers. Therefore, the first step is to select a jury. The jury selection process may take a few hours to a full day. Jurors are selected from an available pool to go through the voir dire process. This is when prosecutors and defense attorneys ask jurors questions to determine which ones may be the best fit for the case.
After the jury is selected, opening statements are made by the counsel for the defense and by the prosecution. The goal is to explain the details of the case to the jury and lay the groundwork for proving why a defendant is guilty or not guilty. These statements may last anywhere from 10 to 45, depending on rules imposed by the presiding judge.
The prosecution will start by calling witnesses to the stand to talk about what they know regarding the case. Examples of key witnesses include the police officer who pulled a driver over and individuals who saw that the driver was intoxicated before driving.
Expert witnesses may be called to give their professional opinion of the evidence presented. After a prosecution witness testifies, he or she will be cross-examined by the defense. The goal of the defense here is to point out flaws in the testimony and create doubt in the minds of the jurors.
After the prosecution presents its case, the defense may call its own witnesses (if any), and the defendant may take the stand in his or her own defense. However, the defendant is not required to say anything in his or her defense. The prosecution will have the ability to cross-examine any defense witnesses.
A trial concludes by allowing both the defense and the prosecution to make a closing statement. These statements generally serve as a way to make a final impression on a jury. In some cases, it provides one last chance to send a convincing message to jurors that may create enough doubt to lead to an acquittal.
It may also allow an attorney to attempt to answer any questions that he or she believes that jurors may be asking themselves. It may also allow an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings that he or she believes may have occurred during the trial.
Before the jury goes to deliberate, the judge will provide the jury instructions to follow. Generally, the jurors will need to come to a unanimous decision for a defendant to be found guilty. Jurors may also be ordered not to talk about the case outside of the jury room to anyone, including their close friends and family. If jurors have any questions about the case or need any clarification during deliberation, both the defense and the prosecution will be involved in open court.
The final part of the DUI trial process is for the jury to come to a verdict based on the evidence that it has seen and heard. It is possible for deliberations to last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days depending on how long the trial was. Deliberations may also take longer if certain jurors are steadfast in a belief that is contrary to what the majority of jurors may think.
At the end of deliberations, the jury will either convict a defendant of the DUI charge or acquit the defendant assuming that a consensus has been reached. If a jury is deadlocked with no hope of overcoming that situation, a mistrial may be declared. In some cases, the defendant may be ordered to stand trial again, but it is also possible that the case is dropped entirely.
If you are charged with DUI, you could face fines, jail time and a driver license suspension or revocation. It makes sense to have your case reviewed by an attorney. Counsel could negotiate a plea agreement, an acquittal or some other favorable outcome.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drunk driving lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drunk driving attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.