The DUI Trial Process involves several steps, which must be taken before, and during a DUI trial before any court can find a defendant legally guilty or not guilty of the alleged DUI charges in Orange County. Below, is a brief overview of the DUI trial process as it is practiced in Orange County courts.
The DUI Trial Process – Selection of Bench or Jury Trial
If you are charged with a DUI anywhere in California, you and the prosecutor can select a trial by judge or jury. A trial by judge is called a bench trial. Most persons accused select a jury trial, but if both parties agree, a judge trial can be used to decide a DUI.
In a bench trial, the judge acts as, well, both judge and jury. The judge is both the finder of fact and the gatekeeper on evidence, serving as the ruler on matters of law and procedure. No jury is present during the bench trial and the judge renders the verdict after hearing all the evidence, and any arguments.
In a jury trial, twelve (12) members of the community act as the finder of fact. Like the judge in a bench trial, the jury listens to the evidence that each side presents during the trial. They consider whether the evidence proves the elements of the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and then renders a verdict based on the evidence presented.
The DUI Trial Process – Opening Statements
The opening statement is limited to what the evidence will prove. Each side, the prosecution and the defense, can discuss facts that will be presented later. Both sides are limited only to the evidence that will be presented throughout the trial.
The prosecutor presents an opening statement first since the burden of proof rests on him/her to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the alleged criminal offense. Your attorney gives an opening statement which challenges the credibility of the prosecutor’s statement. Opening statements are not argumentative. You are innocent until proven guilty in a DUI, despite what you might hear from the media or DUI public interest groups.
The DUI Trial Process – Testimonial Evidence
After opening statements, the prosecutor goes first, and testimonial evidence is presented to support the prosecutor’s case. This is usually in the form of witness testimony, and in certain cases documents and video evidence. In general, the law recognizes two types of evidence that may be presented: direct or circumstantial evidence.
Direct evidence can consist of anything directly seen. This could be the eyewitness account of a police officer as to driving, or could involve a confession, or the evidence of a witness to a crash.
Circumstantial evidence suggests a fact by a reasonable inference. It may consist of the description of a crime scene or physical evidence that suggests a crime was committed. The jury instruction in California contains the example that if you saw it was wet everywhere outside, you can reasonably infer that it rained, even if you didn’t see it. This is even though there are other explanations (such as sprinklers) that might have caused the effect. Both forms of evidence can be presented by oral testimony from officers or witnesses, court exhibits, images, videos, test results, and other qualified legal documents.
The attorneys may object to some of the evidence presented.
The DUI Trial Process – Direct and Cross-Examination
In a DUI case, the evidence is first presented by the prosecution. Both direct and cross-examination of witnesses called by either side can occur. Direct examination questions are open ended to elicit both direct and circumstantial evidence. The defense in a DUI can use information even from the prosecution’s witnesses.
Cross-examination is leading questions limited to evidence raised during the direct examination. The defense will in most cases cross examine each of the witnesses put on by the prosecution.
The DUI Trial Process – DUI Closing Arguments
Once testimony by both sides has concluded, the prosecutor and the DUI defense attorney give closing statements. Closing arguments illustrate what each side believes the evidence did or did not prove. Closing arguments are, as the name implies, argumentative and state why the judge or jury should rule in the party’s favor.
The prosecutor presents a closing statement followed by the Orange County DUI defense attorneys’ closing statement. Each side will try to use the evidence and the law to influence the judge or the jury to decide a certain way.
The DUI Trial Process – Verdict
After closing statements, the final step in the DUI Trial Process is when the judge renders a verdict or reads jury instructions on the law. The judge will instruct a jury how to apply the evidence presented during the trial to reach a verdict. A jury can take any reasonable amount of time to consider the evidence and come up with a decision.
The possible verdicts in drunk driving cases are “guilty,” or “not guilty.” Where a jury cannot decide on a verdict, the judge may declare a mistrial, as the DUI will end up in a Hung Jury. The goal is to have the DUI dismissed by having a not guilty verdict. (The Jury Trial painting above is copyright Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post).
Contact Orange County DUI attorney Robert Miller for a case evaluation if you have been charged with a DUI.