DC DUI Trials
When a person is charged with a DUI in DC, there are many different factors which can impact the form of their potential DC DUI trial. As a result, it is important to consult with a Washington, DC DUI lawyer in order to determine if they should choose a bench trial, or a jury trial if one is available. It is also important to consider whether or not to bring the case to trial at all, as there may be alternative ways of resolving the case. The viability of all of these options is dependent on the specifics of each particular case, and all of these options should be discussed with an attorney to determine how best to move forward.
Differences Between a Bench Trial and a Jury Trial
In Washington, DC, not every DUI case is eligible to be tried before a jury. However, if a person is facing a maximum criminal penalty of more than 180 days in jail on any individual charge, that person is entitled to have their case tried before a jury. If a person is facing a maximum possible penalty on any individual charge of 180 days or less in jail, that person is only eligible to have their case tried before a judge. A defendant would also be eligible for a trial by jury if the cumulative incarceration period they face for two or more charges is more than 2 years.
In a first offense DUI case, a defendant’s maximum possible penalty is 180 days of jail time. Therefore, a person facing a first offense charge of driving under the influence would not be eligible to have their case tried before a jury. That person would only be eligible to have a “bench trial,” which is a trial that is decided by a judge.
Prior to trial, no matter if it is a bench or jury trial, the judge will set pre-trial release conditions for the individual to prepare for trial at home, preferably with the guidance of an attorney.
Trials for Second or Third Offenses
If a person is facing a second or subsequent offense for driving under the influence, they may face a maximum possible penalty of one year of jail. Therefore, a person facing a second or subsequent DUI would have the option of selecting to have their case tried before and decided by a jury of Washington, DC residents.
However, eligibility for a trial by jury does not necessarily mean that the eligible individual will be required to have a trial by jury. A person who is facing a second or subsequent DUI offense could elect to have their DUI trial heard by a judge, which would result in that person waiving a jury trial. The decision as to whether to select a jury trial or a bench trial is a very important decision for a defendant to discuss with their lawyer so that they can properly understand the possible benefits and drawbacks of each option.
Jury Selection Process
The process for selecting a jury begins with having a jury pool of Washington, DC residents from which specific individuals are selected to sit on the jury at trial. The jury pool in a DUI case usually consists of about 40 to 50 people who have been selected for jury duty on that day. The first part of narrowing down that jury pool consists of the judge asking the larger jury pool a number of general questions meant to decide if any of the members of the jury pool have specific reasons why they would not make for effective jurors.
Such questions may include questions about whether the prospective jurors know either the lawyers or any of the parties involved in the case, whether the prospective jurors have any specific biases that could make them ineffective jurors, or whether the prospective jurors have any scheduling conflicts that would make sitting on a jury highly burdensome for them at that time.
Based on the answers to those questions, the judge or lawyers may begin asking to strike prospective jurors for cause, meaning that there is a specific reason why those jurors should not be permitted to decide the case before them. Once those strikes narrow down the jury pool, the prosecutor and the defense attorney begin conducting “peremptory strikes,” which permits each side to strike jurors without providing any specific reason. Prosecutors and defense lawyers have only a limited number of peremptory strikes and, once the peremptory strikes are completed, the remaining individuals would then sit on the jury for that case.
Both peremptory strikes and strikes for cause are limited in that prosecutors are not permitted to strike jurors on the basis of race or religion or in an attempt to have a racially homogenous jury.
Importance of an Attorney
One of the most important decisions that a person can make when facing any criminal charge, including a DUI charge, is whether to take their case to trial. When considering the facts of trial, a lawyer will always explore all options when representing a client in a DUI case including presenting any ways in which a case can be resolved without a trial and then comparing those options against the positives and negatives that could result from a trial. In the event that a non-trial resolution is possible, such a resolution could give a client a distinct advantage in certain cases.
It is a DC DUI lawyer’s obligation to discuss all possible options with their client as ultimately, it is the defendant who has the final say as to whether they would like the case to go to trial or whether they would prefer to resolve the case through a non-trial option. With the assistance of a knowledgeable lawyer, a defendant would be able to make the decision that gives them the best chance of the most favorable possible outcome.
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