If you get charged with a DUI, your options usually involve taking a plea deal or going to trial. Does that mean you have the right to a jury to hear your case?
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that criminal defendants have the right to a jury trial. Does this apply to DUI defendants too?
There are many ways a DUI case can move forward toward resolution in New York and New Jersey. Many cases get resolved through a plea agreement, maybe for a lesser offense or lesser penalties. In New Jersey you do not have a right to a jury trial on a DWI and if you choose to go forward to a trial in your matter a judge will decide guilt or innocence.
The only way to know the best option for you is to speak to a DUI lawyer about the specifics of your case. The outcome of your DUI case depends on the unique facts of your situation.
You Can Get a DWI Jury Trial in New York
In New York, you have the right to trial by jury if you’re facing DWI charges. This is because DWI is a criminal charge in New York.
Due process is a constitutional requirement in the U.S. The government cannot deprive you of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The more severe the criminal charges you face, the stronger due process rights you have to protect and defend yourself.
- In a NY misdemeanor DWI, you have the right to a jury trial with a maximum of 6 jurors.
- In a NY felony DWI, you have the right to a jury trial with a maximum of 12 jurors.
Misdemeanors carry serious consequences but felonies are even more severe. The fines are higher, the jail sentences are longer, and license revocations are more common. In New York, most first-time DUIs qualify as misdemeanors except for some circumstances in which the charge can be upgraded to a felony (for example you have a child in the car at the time of the DWI). Second and third offenses within ten years of a prior DWI qualify as felonies.
In New Jersey The Rules are Very Different
The rules are different across state lines in New Jersey. A 2016 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that drivers charged with a DUI aren’t entitled to a jury trial.
This is because drunk driving is considered a “motor vehicle offense” and not a criminal offense in New Jersey. According to the NJ Supreme Court, punishments for these offenses are not serious enough to require the constitutional right to a jury trial.
Now, that might not seem right. Because in New Jersey, penalties for repeat DUI convictions include 180 days of jail time, thousands of dollars in fines, and suspension or even revocation of your driver’s license. Those consequences definitely sound serious enough.
The Supreme Court did mention that if the state ever increases its DUI penalties in the future, they may have to revise this decision to provide jury trials in DUI cases. Meanwhile, at least 40 other states provide jury trials as an option for DUI defendants.
Is a Jury Trial the Best Option for Your DUI Case?
Even if you have the option for a jury trial, you should consider whether that’s the best option for your unique case. You may benefit from taking another strategy or approach.
For one, trials can get expensive. A jury trial involves more steps than a simple bench trial where you argue your case directly to a judge. A jury trial will also take you longer because you must go through the jury selection and deliberation process.
Other points to consider when thinking of a jury trial for your DUI case:
- If the jury on your case is unable to reach a unanimous decision, your case may get declared a mistrial because of a “hung jury.” A mistrial means that your case essentially has no resolution. The prosecutor may decide to try you again, but not always. This could be a win for you or it could drag out your case even longer.
- Jurors don’t always follow the law or the rules, even after being instructed by a judge. A juror is much more likely to make decisions based on emotion than logic or legality. This may play to your advantage – but it may also have the opposite effect. For example, if your DUI involves severe injuries or behavior cast in an especially bad light, jurors may vote to convict even if the prosecution has some holes in their evidence.
- Judges are more predictable when it comes to deciding legal issues. A judge is much more likely to stick to the law rather than get swayed by emotions. So if you’ve got a strong legal argument for your case, a bench trial could be a better option.
A knowledgeable lawyer will be able to discuss with you the pros and cons of jury vs. non-jury trials and go over all of your options as the case proceeds.
No two cases are the same, which is why your DUI case requires a custom-tailored approach based on the unique facts in your situation. The only way to know the best strategy moving forward for you is to talk to an experienced DUI lawyer who can help
Schedule a no-risk case consultation with our leading DUI/DWI attorneys now. You can reach us at our New York offices at (212) 372-7218 and our New Jersey offices at (973) 854-0098.