California Criminal DUI Trial: Inside a Jury Trial
California drivers arrested on suspicion of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) fear that there is no point in fighting the charges. But there are excellent reasons to take a California DUI case to trial when represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Often, a better understanding of how jury trials are conducted can ease the concerns of individuals accused of drunk driving.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees each criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial. Because of the busy schedule found in many California courthouses, the right to a speedy trial has been given specific guidelines. In California, a DUI defendant has the right to a court trial that begins within 30 days of arraignment. A defendant who is not in custody has the right to start trial within 45 days of arraignment. These time limits can be waived by the defendant, and often are extended at the request of the defendant or their criminal defense attorney to allow for time to do an investigation into every element of the case and file any necessary pre-trial motions.
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California criminal trial, including a DUI trial, has certain distinct elements. The first stage in the trial process is typically the submission of pre-trial motions, also known as motions in limine. The next phase is jury selection, where 12 impartial jurors are chosen. During jury selection, both sides engage in voir dire, or the examination of prospective jurors, to each individual’s suitability for jury service. Some jurors will be excused "for cause", or at the discretion of the attorneys, in what is known as a peremptory challenge
After the jury is selected, both sides give opening statements. This is an opportunity for both the defense lawyer and prosecutor to give a preview of what is to come in the case. Defense attorneys often use this opportunity to remind jurors that the prosecutor has the burden of proving every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Defense lawyer will also ask jurors to keep an open mind.
After opening statements, each side will engage in the examination and cross examination of prosecution witnesses and experts and the examination and cross examination of defense witnesses and experts.
Once all of the witnesses have testified, both sides will engage in closing arguments. This is typically a chance to recap the case that has been presented to the jury. The next phase of the DUI trial is jury deliberations and, finally, the verdict. A defendant who is found guilty will then be sentenced.
Trial dates are expressed as "0 of 10 dates," meaning that the defendant's speedy trial rights will not be violated if the criminal trial begins within 10 days of that date. If the trial does not begin within 10 days of that date, the DUI case must be dismissed. If the last day for the criminal trial falls on a weekend day or holiday, the date is extended to the next business day.
It is important to remember that defendants in California DUI cases can prevail at trial. An experienced California DUI defense lawyer will develop an aggressive strategy to fight the charges and keep negative consequences to a minimum.