Bench Trial or Jury Trial in a DUI Case? A Very Significant and Not-So-Simple Question
There is a movement taking place across this country to take away the right to trial by jury in 1st offense DUI cases. Georgia law continues to provide those charged with DUI here with the right to a trial by jury on every DUI charge. Therefore, a person charged with DUI can always elect to go forward with a jury trial. On the other hand, an accused can attempt to go forward with a bench trial, but the state may prevent the defendant from setting the case for a bench trial in some cases.
Some lawyers intuitively think that one would never move forward to a bench trial when the defense is premised upon the burden of proof (proof beyond a reasonable doubt) as to the defendant’s state of impairment. Such lawyers typically believe if the issue is whether our client was impaired, a judge is not the proper avenue for an acquittal (not guilty). This is right in most cases, but what if your case were in front of a judge that would be as favorable as any jury? What if you could eliminate a lot of the uncertainty that accompanies a jury trial? What if the election to have a bench trial instead of a jury trial trial would significantly reduce the probability that the court would impose a draconian sentence in the event of a guilty verdict?
As a practical matter, the decision as to whether try a case in front of a jury or a judge is a difficult decision that can only be intelligently made with a consideration of a multitude of various facts. Experience counsel that understands the judge and whether or not the judge can apply the burden of proof in a DUI case is a difficult matter to judge. However, experienced DUI lawyers recognize that we cannot flatly reject the notice that a bench trial is the appropriate choice for a trial.
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