Manassas DUI Jury Trials

The difference between a bench trial and a jury trial is who the fact finder is in the case. Every case has a finder of fact or someone who determines what evidence they believe or don’t believe, and whether or not there will be a conviction based upon the evidence presented. In either case, the judge still runs the trial and makes decisions about matters of law (for example whether evidence is admissible, or whether testimony is relevant). In a bench trial the judge fills both roles. In the case of a jury trial, however, the jury will determine the factual elements of the case.  This difference can have a substantial impact on the case, making it important that a Manassas DUI lawyer familiar with jury trials is contacted.

Pros and Cons of a Jury

In Virginia, the primary benefit of a jury is that the jury verdicts must be unanimous, and therefore, it is only necessary to convince one juror that a person is not guilty in order for there to be a mistrial. For this reason, sometimes, juries are advantageous because the chances of the defendant being acquitted are often higher.

The risk that is involved with a jury hearing a case is that not only do juries determine guilt or innocence, but they also determine the punishment. A judge who is sentencing someone will sentence them similarly to the hundreds or even thousands of other defendants that he or she has had in their court, or in the case of felonies, will sentence them after reviewing sentencing guidelines. A jury on the other hand can give someone the entire sentence available by law, often under circumstances where a judge probably would not have done that and, in most cases, there’s no review of that decision. For example most judges do not impose an active jail sentence for a first DUI, but rather will give some suspended jail time (that is, jail time which need not be done so long as other conditions are met). A jury hearing that same case could impose the entire one year of jail available under the law.

In most Manassas DUI trials, a jury trial will only be advisable if the lawyer believes that there is not a significant risk of their client receiving a substantially greater sentence from the jury than they would receive from a judge. This is a complicated analysis and a defendant should NEVER ask for a jury without consulting a lawyer first.

Reasons to Request a Jury in a DUI case

When a DUI case has contested factual issues such as whether someone was actually operating a motor vehicle or whether they were displaying behavior that was consistent with intoxication, sometimes it is better to utilize a jury because they may be more likely to resolve those issues in your favor.

It can be true in some cases that judges are less sympathetic to defendants and for that reason, it may be tougher to get an acquittal from them on the same set of facts than it will be to get that same result from a jury. But the overriding consideration in choosing a jury is whether the lawyer believes the judge in the case is likely to impose the maximum punishment. If so, there is nothing to lose by choosing a jury and only benefits to be gained.

Jury Selection Process

The process for jury selection in Virginia begins with a panel of citizens being called for jury service who go to the courthouse at the beginning of trial.

Jury selection then begins with what is called voir dire. Voir dire is a process whereby each of the attorneys – both from the government, as well as for the defendant – get to ask jurors questions to determine their suitability to sit on the case and determine whether they can be fair and impartial in determining the outcome of the case.

If there are any reasons why the person cannot objectively be impartial in the case, then any juror that answers a question in a way that shows they are not impartial will be stricken (removed) from the jury pool and then the questions will continue.

Once all of those jurors have been removed (though sometimes there aren’t any who are removed), each of the attorneys have the ability to strike three jurors without cause. After those three “peremptory” strikes have been given for each side and they have been replaced by alternate jurors, then the first seven jurors (in misdemeanor cases) or the first twelve jurors (in felony cases) who are remaining will be seated as a jury and will proceed to participate in the trial moving forward.