While most driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI) cases settle, not all of them do. If the government does not dismiss the case or offer an acceptable plea agreement, the case goes to trial. Trial can be overwhelming, particularly if you don't know what to expect. A trial can be broken down into a series of different parts, with each part having its own purpose.
Deciding Whether to Try a Case to a Jury or a Judge
A criminal defendant has very little control over what happens in many parts of the trial. However, the first step--choosing to try the case to a jury or a judge--is a choice the defendant gets to make. Of course, this should be done in consultation with a lawyer. There are benefits to each choice, and different lawyers have different opinions on which choice is best. At the end of the day, it's best to listen to your lawyer and your gut when choosing whether to try the case to a jury or waive the jury and try it to a judge.
Picking the Jury
If you choose a jury trial, the jury must be selected. Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor have the opportunity to ask the potential jurors questions. The judge may also ask the potential jurors some questions. Some questions are considered pretty standard:
- Do you know any of the witnesses?
- Do you work in the criminal justice system?
- Would you believe a police officer's testimony over another person's testimony solely because they are a police officer?
- Can you be fair and impartial?
- Do you have work obligations or vacation plans that would keep you from being able to attend the trial until completion?
There will be other questions the lawyers will have. Often, these questions are crafted based on the specific facts and circumstances of the case.
Once the lawyers have picked the jury, both lawyers give an opening statement. An opening statement is each attorney's opportunity to tell the jury what they think the evidence will show. Of course, witnesses sometimes fail to remember details or testify differently than the attorneys expect. Opening statements are not testimony or evidence in the case. They are just designed to let the jury know what to expect.
Government Witness Testimony
The government has the duty of proving the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. To do this, they must call witnesses to testify in open court. You can expect the police officer who gave you the ticket to testify. There may also be testimony from scientists or other people involved in the testing of blood, breath, or urine. When the prosecution questions their own witnesses, this is called direct examination. The rules of evidence require an attorney, on direct exam, to ask open-ended questions, such as, “What did you see?” or “What happened next?”
In each case, after the prosecution is done questioning the witness, the defense attorney has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Typically, cross-examination questions are narrow and focus on one fact at a time. Often, they are designed to be answered with a simple yes or no, such as, “When you approached my client's car, did you see the keys in the ignition?” or “Once you were at the station, did you wait 20 minutes before asking my client to provide a breath sample?”
Defense Witness Testimony
The defense can also call witnesses if they choose, however, they are not required to do so. The government has the burden of proof. The defense doesn't have to prove anything. However, there are some situations where the defense may choose to call witnesses. For example, if the accused drove home from work, then had several drinks with their neighbor, the neighbor may testify about the drinks they observed the defendant consume.
Choosing Whether or Not to Testify
The defendant and the defendant alone makes the decision about whether or not to testify. This is their right to remain silent, which is guaranteed by both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the state of Georgia. If a defendant chooses not to testify, neither the prosecutor or the judge can comment on this to the jury. In making the decision about whether or not to testify, it is a good idea to consult with your attorney. Many people want to take the stand to tell the jury they are not guilty of the crime. However, there are reasons why staying off the stand may be the better choice. If, after consulting with your attorney, you want to testify, you will take the stand. Just as with the other witnesses, you will be subject to direct examination by your attorney, and cross-examination by the prosecutor.
Closing arguments are different than opening statements in that they are arguments. This is each attorney's opportunity to summarize the evidence that has come in and argue its significance. Both sides address the jury with their arguments about how the jury should interpret the evidence presented. The prosecution will ask the jury to find you guilty, and your attorney will find you not guilty. The judge then reads the jury some instructions and the jury retires to deliberate.
Once the jury has come to a decision, they will return with a verdict.
Are You Charged with a DUI?
If you are facing DUI charges, our Roswell and Alpharetta DUI attorneys can help. We focus our entire practice on representing people charged with DUI. We look forward to putting our experience to work for you. Call today for a free consultation at 404.816.4440. We have attorneys available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.