In deciding whether to have a particular DUI-DWI case tried to a jury or to the court, defense counsel should give primary consideration to the type of defense anticipated in the case. If the defense anticipated is legal or technical in nature, a DUI bench trial may be advantageous. For example, if the primary defense is the inability of the prosecution to prove that the defendant “operated” the vehicle or the illegality of the roadblock wherein the defendant was stopped, then a trial to the court may be preferable. On the other hand, if there is a substantial factual defense (i.e., that the defendant was not intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol), then a DUI jury trial is almost always in the defendant’s best interest, even if there are legal or technical defenses in addition to the factual defense, for the simple reason that jurors acquit more often than judges.
Of course there are factors other than the nature of the defense that should be considered when deciding on the method of trial. Factors favoring a trial to the court include – (1) the expense of the trial (court trials are usually shorter and less costly), (2) the existence of an admissible criminal record of the defendant that may prejudice the jury, (3) local community prejudice against the defendant either because of the case (e.g., where the defendant was involved in a widely publicized accident involving death or injuries) or because of the defendant’s race, creed, color, nationality, or occupation, (4) local community prejudice against drinking drivers, (5) a judge who is known to be fair and impartial in drinking-driving cases, and (6) the possibility of the court imposing a harsher sentence for “wasting the court’s time” with a DUI jury trial. Factors favoring a DUI jury trial, in addition to the advantage described in the preceding paragraph, include – (1) a judge who is known to be prosecution-oriented in drunk or impaired driving cases, (2) a defendant who is known and respected in the local community, and (3) a prosecutor who does not handle jury trials well.