What Actually Happens In A DUI Trial?
There are many components of a DUI trial. After pre-trial motions are taken care of, the court will screen potential jurors for obvious biases. Then the lawyers have an opportunity to ask questions of the potential jurors. According to state law, the defense and prosecution can each excuse up to ten jurors without having to state any particular reason for doing so. They can excuse an unlimited number of jurors for cause, meaning for indicators of bias or other factors that could compromise the fairness of the trial. It’s important that our clients receive fair trials.
Once a jury has been selected, the prosecution and defense are each allowed to give an opening statement. Next, witnesses are called. The prosecution first presents its case-in-chief and calls all of their witnesses. The defense has the right, duty and obligation to cross-examine each witness. The nature of the cross-examination will depend on each individual witness in each individual case.
During the cross-examination of a witness, a good DUI lawyer attempts to obtain evidence that’s favorable for the defense. For example, if a defendant was charged with DUI after being stopped for speeding, the defense would illuminate the fact that there was no accident and that the person was otherwise driving appropriately. The defense would argue that speeding is a factor not commonly associated with someone who is driving under the influence of alcohol, and that all other details pertaining to the stop indicate that the person was sober when pulled over by the officer. These are details that a defense lawyer might bring out on cross-examination.
Depending on the particular case, there may be one or more officers involved. The state will call an expert from the crime lab to indicate whether or not the blood testing machine (also called a gas chromatograph) was working properly and whether or not the defendant was indeed driving under the influence of alcohol. Sometimes the state will call the police officer to establish a basis for the portable breath test to be admitted into evidence if they have the records to establish the foundation for the results.
The state’s experts will also testify as to the driver’s blood alcohol content at the time of driving. The defense cross-examination is very important in this respect, because the prosecution’s evidence may be based on certain assumptions that are not true. For example, if someone states that they had a couple of drinks two hours before submitting to the breath test, and the breath test showed a result of 0.15, then that result would be considered inconsistent with their story. Based on the defendant’s testimony, the expert would try to calculate what the person’s blood alcohol content would have been at the time of driving. During our cross-examination, we’ll try to obtain favorable evidence from the state’s expert and establish that if the expert’s assumptions are invalid, then so too is their opinion.
The defense may or may not choose to call witnesses. If they do, they may call the defendant, friends of the defendant or a defense expert. A defense expert could establish that based on the facts that were brought out in the trial, the person was not under the influence of alcohol at the time of driving and/or that their blood alcohol content was not above 0.08, which is the legal limit in California.
Lastly, the state’s closing argument is made, followed by the defense’s closing argument. Then the state is allowed to give a rebuttal. More often than not, the judge will save final instructions for the jury until after the final closing arguments. Then the jury deliberates. Sometimes these deliberations last an hour and sometimes they last a number of days. Depending on how many charges there are, the jury may come back with a finding of guilty, not guilty or a combination of the two. If the jury is hopelessly deadlocked, then it would be a mistrial.
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