A Step-By-Step Breakdown Of The DUI Trial Process
In a typical jury trial here on a first offense DUI, most courts will have you show up about 8:30 in the morning. There are a few that I am seeing that are a little bit different, they schedule their jury trials at 12:30 on a Friday afternoon. So in those jurisdictions, you can imagine that there are not very many trials because no one loves to be trying a case on a Friday afternoon starting at 12:30. Then like most trials, they take a day or more and so you are pushing into Friday evening sometimes. So it is weird like setting the jurisdictions, they have different prosecutors, their judges schedule them for different times and there are just so many factors. But you get there and one of the first things you do is you start picking a jury.
There are usually about twenty-five to thirty people in the jury pool and each side will take turns asking questions, trying to get to know the jurors, find out if they have any biases and trying to help determine which ones we want to make the decisions on the case. It is called Jury Voir Dire, we start selecting the actual jury and each side has what they call preemptory challenge, where we can just strike a jury member for any reason we want. For example, we can strike a juror for cause like if we think their husband is a patrolman, we are probably going to get rid of that juror for bias or something to that effect. Once each side strikes any jury members they can strike for cause and uses their preemptory challenges, people that are remaining, the four people in order that are remaining will end up becoming the jury.
The judge will then excuse the remaining people out of the thirty because the four have been selected, and the judge will swear them in and tell them what their duties are and why they are there today. Then the attorneys will proceed with opening statements. That is where each side leaves out their position on the case, what they think the arguments are and what the evidence will show. Once opening statements are made, then the prosecution gets to go first and call their first witness. Typically that is the arresting officer. The officer is going to testify about the reason for the stop, what the driver did on the field sobriety tests and all the steps that he took in his DUI investigation, and then whether he asked for a breath test or a blood test.
For each witness, once prosecution puts them on the stand and questions them, I get the opportunity to challenge them, ask them questions. I always like to test their knowledge about the instructions on the field sobriety tests, whether they administered them correctly, interpreted them correctly. Once I get done with the cross-examination, the state goes first and they call their next witness. Usually on a DUI case, it is either someone who has seen the client weaving in and out of their lane and called in the driver, or if it is not the person who initiated the call in the first place, then it is usually someone from the lab or a breath technician. What I mean by the lab is the person who analyzes the blood or the technician who performed the maintenance on the breath test machine.
Once the state’s done with them, I will get to question them and ask them about the procedures that they used the steps that they followed their certifications, their training and things like that. When all the witnesses are done, the defense can call any witnesses they need. Sometimes we call an expert witness to explain who has had a chance to look at the procedures done by the lab or just any specialized scientific evidence that we need to discredit the state in their case. After all the evidence is presented, then we will go to the closing argument. The prosecution gets to go first when it comes to closing arguments because they have the burden of proof in the case, so they give their closing argument, then the defense will give a closing argument and be arguing for dismissal or not guilty and all the reasons why the jury should see the case that way.
The prosecution then gets to go very last. That is because they have the burden, they will make the final statement and then the judge, after that, will excuse the jury to go and make their decisions. Everyone just sits around and waits while they are doing that. Sometimes, we can go and get a cup of coffee and then the jury will notify the court and the judge that they have reached the decision. The judge and the bailiff will gather everyone back in the courtroom and the decision will be announced. If it is favorable and you get a Not Guilty verdict, then the client gets to walk out with counsel and that is it, they never have to come back. If the decision is of course guilty, then most of the times, they will delay sentencing.
Every now and then, I like to proceed when we have a guilty verdict to another day when everyone is not had such a long day. We are prepared to present information to the judge at sentencing like any treatment that has started, any community service that has been served, just trying to put together mitigating factors. So I always ask for continued sentencing if the verdict is guilty. That is kind of the process. Depending on the witnesses and how many are needed and each side calls, it can take a day, sometimes it may take two days.
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