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Selecting a Jury

A California criminal DUI trial has many important aspects, and jury selection is among the most critical. It is extremely important to select a panel of fair, impartial jurors who will take their responsibility seriously. An experienced California DUI defense attorney will carefully evaluate each potential juror to ensure that a panel of fair, impartial jurors is impaneled to decide criminal DUI case.

Twelve jurors, along with one or two alternate jurors, are chosen in each criminal trial. If a driver is to be convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), the jury must unanimously agree that the prosecutor has proved each elements of the offense in a California DUI case beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt, he or she is entitled to a verdict of not guilty. If the jurors cannot agree to one verdict, a hung jury occurs, and the case is dismissed. A hung jury is considered a win for the defense. It is only necessary to convince one or two jurors of the weakness of the prosecution's case to achieve a hung jury.

At the beginning of the jury selection process, a panel of potential jurors is gathered in the courtroom. The clerk of the court will then swear the panel, which means the jurors take an oath to truthfully answer questions about their ability and qualifications to serve as jurors in a criminal trial. For speedy trial purposes, this is also when the trial begins.

The judge tells the potential jurors what type of case it is, how long it is expected to last - California driving under the influence (DUI) cases typically last three to four days - and asks if any of the individuals have conflicts that prevent them from being jurors in a criminal trial.

A number of prospective jurors are called to the jury box at random. The judge asks each juror to answer several questions, such as area of residence, occupation, whether they are married or have children, whether they have ever served on a jury panel before, and if so, what type of case it was, and whether the jury was able to reach a verdict.

Potential jurors are asked to fill out questionnaires that indicate whether they can be fair and impartial. The judge asks each juror to answer the questions out loud and to elaborate on any answers if necessary. If any answers indicate that a juror is biased or cannot be fair, he or she can be challenged "for cause."

However, it is not easy to have a juror excused for cause, because even if bias is apparent - for example, the individual may have relatives who are police officers or was the victim of a drunk driver - the judge will ask the potential juror if he or she can put aside those feelings and be fair and impartial to both sides. If the individual answers yes, he or she will not be excused, even if fair and impartial service seems impossible.

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Once the judge has finished questioning the panel, the lawyers have a chance to speak to the potential jurors. This is the first opportunity for the defense lawyer to connect with the jurors and build a rapport with them. It is important for a criminal defense lawyer to make a good first impression and get the jurors to like him or her, which helps them to like the client. Judges typically impose strict time limits on attorneys when they question potential jurors, so it is important to take advantage of this time by introducing some key issues that will be discussed further in opening statements and closing argument.

After the defense attorney has a chance to question the jurors, the prosecutor is allowed to ask questions. Finally, at the end of the first round of questioning by the lawyers, the judge gives the lawyers the opportunity outside the presence of the jurors to make challenges for cause.

The judge then asks each attorney whether they wish to use their preemptory challenges. The prosecutor then indicates which jurors he or she wishes to excuse. The DUI defense lawyer has the next challenge, and then the prosecutor excuses another, and so on. In California, criminal defense lawyers get only 10 preemptory challenges. The jury panel is selected once both the prosecutor and defense attorney accept the 12 people who are in the jury box, or when both sides run out of preemptory challenges.

An experienced California DUI defense lawyer understands the importance of jury selection, and uses that knowledge to connect with jurors, introduce key issues, and make a good first impression on behalf of a client charged with drunk driving.

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