A DUI bench trial is a trial before the judge only, without a jury being present. Instead of the jury deciding the issues of fact like whether or not you are guilty of driving while intoxicated, it is the judge who makes this decision.
Who gets to opt for a “bench” trial? Other than in states that have taken away your right to trial by jury, it is always your decision to opt for a bench trial. A few states actually REQUIRE a jury trial unless both the defense and the prosecution “waive” a jury. In states that have jury trials, the prosecution cannot force a bench trial on a defendant who wants a jury trial. It is a fundamental right for a defendant facing any criminal trial, including misdemeanors like DUI-DWI, to have a jury if he or she wants 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. If you are in a court that does not have legislative authority to conduct jury trials, and you want a jury, the case must be transferred to a court that permits you to have a trial by jury. This, of course, applies only in states that have not eliminated jury trials for misdemeanor DUI-DWIs.
A number of factors go into a decision to have a bench trial rather than try the case before a jury.
The first factor goes directly to your attorney’s knowledge of the assigned judge’s basic sense of fairness. Your experienced DUI-DWI lawyer may personally know of the judge’s record, may know the prosecutor, and will have tried both bench and jury trials in the court where your trial will be held. Based on this experience, your DUI lawyer may recommend a bench trial. The true test comes down to this: Can you expect a jury of randomly selected citizens to be any better at deciding this case than this judge?
Your DUI Lawyer Will Know Which Type of Trial to Pursue
Other reasons for a bench or a jury trial go to the facts of the case. If strong emotions are involved (someone died in the accident related to your alleged DUI-DWI offense or if people in the other vehicle suffered significant injuries), or if you have prior DUI-DWI convictions that the jury will learn about at trial, a fair-minded judge might be a much better choice than leaving the decision of your guilt or innocence to a jury who may be more easily swayed by your prior driving history rather than the facts and the law.
In other situations, an experienced DUI-DWI lawyer may know that the judge scheduled to try your case has a poor “barometer” of guilt or innocence, and is likely to side with the prosecution virtually 100% of the time. All in all, the decision of whether or not to have a jury or a bench trial is why you need the best and most knowledgeable DUI-DWI lawyer you can employ.
Copyright 2015. William C. Head. All Rights Reserved.