A DUI jury trial is different than a DUI bench trial. In most jurisdictions, you can opt for a trial by jury if you want your case to be decided by a jury. If you want your case to be decided by a judge only, you should choose a bench trial. In some jurisdictions (i.e., California), the prosecutor also can opt to have a trial by jury even if you want a bench trial.
In a bench trial, the judge decides everything. In a DUI jury trial, the judge still decides issues of law such as whether the breath test is excluded at a pre-trial motion, procedural questions like whether or not a witness should really be considered an expert, or whether or not an objection should be rejected, overruled or sustained (upheld). The jury, on the other hand, makes the decisions as to questions of fact such as who is telling the truth, or whether the evidence in the case justifies a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
In almost all states, it is your fundamental right if facing any criminal trial, including misdemeanors like DUI-DWI that carry punishments of up to a year in jail, to have a jury trial if you want one. To opt out of a jury trial and have the judge decide guilt, you must expressly, intelligently and personally participate in opting out of the jury trial.
Even in the states that afford you the right to opt for a jury trial, not every court has the ability to offer a DUI jury trial. If your case is originally booked in an inferior (entry level) court that does not allow juries (like a traffic court, justice court or a municipal court), and you want a jury, the trial can be transferred to a court that gives you that option (like a circuit or superior court).
The names of these courts differ from state to state, and your experienced DUI trial lawyer will know which court is the appropriate court for such transfers.
In some states, the court system is set up to always allow your case an “initial” trial at a non-jury court, with a full right to get a new trial at court with a jury trial authority. Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama are three states with this system. In these states, the second trial, with a jury, will start from scratch, which is called a “de novo” trial.
Based on your attorney’s knowledge of your case, his or her knowledge of the different courts, prosecutors and judges, and his or her experience with the juries in the jurisdiction in which your DUI-DWI trial will be held, good reasons may exist why a jury trial is your only realistic chance to win your case.
Certain types of drunk driving cases are usually not good candidates for a bench trial. For example, if your case involves a DUI breath test result exceeding the per se limit and your defense is that your high protein diet may have caused a false, elevated reading, few judges would be likely to give the same credence to your expert witness as the average juror would.
Criminal jury trials involve numerous steps, processes, and procedures that are not present in a bench trial. These “steps” include the judge providing some orientation instructions and oaths to jurors, and include selecting the jury (something that can take up to half a day in some DUI-DWI trials.)
In presenting the case to the jury, the lawyers will almost always take longer to explain things to a jury than they would to the judge. The opening statements and closing arguments are longer and more detailed.
A conference between the judge and the criminal attorneys is needed to review all jury instructions that the trial judge will be giving the jurors, plus the actual reading of these instructions can take 30 minutes or more. In addition, the time it takes a jury to deliberate, meaning to decide guilt or innocence, can often run from two hours to more than a day.
If you are paying your DUI attorney by the hour, this extra time can add up to significant dollars out of your pocket. Also, in order to explain things to a jury, your lawyer may need to use different expert witnesses, or possibly more than one expert witness, to help bring the jurors “up to speed” about your legal defense.
These different or extra experts cost money out of your pocket. Also, if the jury trial is taking a day or longer than a bench trial, this is time you are in court and not at work yourself making money.