Jury

A jury is a panel of 12 citizens who are called upon to decide the outcome of a criminal case. All California DUI cases are decided by jury if they go to court.

In California, DUI is a criminal offense and your DUI case will be decided by jury if you go to court. A jury consists of twelve citizens from the county where you are being tried, who have been selected more or less at random. They receive instructions from the judge on how to do their job and are expected to make a fair, impartial ruling in your case.

Do all DUI cases go before a jury?

No. Most DUI cases are resolved without ever going to court. This happens if you:

  • Plead guilty
  • Accept a reduced charge or other bargain before your trial date
  • Get the case against you dropped or dismissed

If you go to trial, however, your case will be decided by a jury.

How are jury members chosen?

All U.S. citizens are required to register for jury duty, and each state has its own way of doing this. Then, individual jurors are chosen at random to go into a “jury pool.” Jurors have to complete questionnaires helping the courts decide if they will be fair and unbiased. Eventually a juror will be assigned at random to a case, such as your DUI case.

Do I have any control over who sits on my jury?

Yes. Your lawyer can participate in a process called voir dire in which they can ask each juror questions and disqualify jurors who they believe may be biased. The prosecution can also do this. Thus, even though the jurors are random, you have some control on what the final makeup of the jury will be.

How do I know the jurors will be fair?

Juries are given extensive instructions by the court and by the judge before they do their job. These instructions help them understand the law and try to focus on the facts of the case, not on their emotions. Most jurors do make a good faith effort to be fair. However, there is definitely such a thing as juror bias, which can skew a jury in your favor or against you.

What does the judge do in a trial by jury?

The judge runs the courtroom. Jurors have little to no experience with the law, whereas judges typically have decades of legal experience. The judge will enforce the rules of evidence, make sure the court is run respectfully and fairly, and explain the law to the jury where needed. The judge also resolves disagreements and challenges between your lawyer and the prosecutor. In fact, for most of the trial process, the jury sits in total silence and simply listens to the judge, the prosecution and the defense.

It is only at the end of the trial, when a verdict is needed, that the jury takes action. Juries deliberate privately and then deliver their verdict to the judge, who reads it to the court.

Is a trial by jury good or bad for my DUI case?

It’s hard to predict. A DUI lawyer will always prefer the certainty of getting your case dismissed ahead of time if possible, and may recommend taking a plea deal, such as wet reckless, instead of going to court. This is because a plea deal gives you a definite outcome, whereas juries may not act at all the way they are expected to. There is always an element of risk in a jury trial.

However, the stronger your case is, the more likely it is you can win at a jury trial. If your lawyer has built strong evidence for you, or if they have gotten some of the prosecutor’s evidence thrown out of the case, they may recommend going to trial to try to get a full Not Guilty verdict. If successful, you can walk away from your case with absolutely no criminal penalties.

All 12 jurors must agree on a verdict. If they cannot come to a unanimous conclusion, it may result in a mistrial—meaning the entire trial must be done over with a new jury. This is very rare.

Who decides the sentence if I’m convicted?

If you are convicted, you will have a sentencing hearing where the judge decides your sentence. The jury is not involved in sentencing in California. The judge can be harsh or lenient as long as they are within the bounds of what the law allows.

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