If you have been charged with drunk driving (DUI, DWI) in Maryland, you may have an option for a jury trial. In Maryland, if you are charged with a crime that carries a maximum penalty of more than 90 days, you have a Constitutional right to a jury trial.
What is a Jury Trial?
A jury trial means that 12 of your peers will decide if you are guilty or not guilty. Almost all DUI and DWI cases begin the process in the District Court for the county where the DUI or DWI occurred. Your first trial date will be in the District Court. The District Courts in Maryland do not have juries, juries are seated in the Circuit Courts of Maryland.
Once you appear for trial in the District Court, you have the right and option to elect a jury trial or “pray a jury trial.” Once you pray a jury trial, your case will be forwarded to the Circuit Court. Some jurisdictions in Maryland forward the case for the next day while other schedule the Circuit Court matter within 30 to 45 days.
Once the case is forwarded to the Circuit Court, you have the option to elect a jury trial. You should always consult with a DUI lawyer if a jury trial is right for your case. There are a number of factors to consider and a Baltimore criminal defense lawyer will know if you case is ripe for a jury trial versus a bench trial. A bench trial is a trial held before a Judge. The Judge will be the trier of fact and determine guilty and innocence.
Is a Jury Trial Right for Your DUI or DWI?
Most lawyers will tell you that a jury trial is for a case where the facts are in dispute and a bench trial is for when the law is in dispute. What we mean by this is; juries will hang on the facts a lot more than the law if there is a disagreement on the facts of the case. If there is a question to how the DUI or DWI arrest occurred, then a jury may be best for your case. If there is an issue to the law, that the facts of the case, if not disputed, under the law would not be a crime of the State is missing an element of the crime, a bench or judge trial may be better for your case.
Factors to Consider in Selecting a Jury Trial for a DUI
Juries are selected from the motor and voter rolls in Maryland for the county where the case is being heard. That means the jury pool will consist of jurors in that community. Some communities and counties are more conservative than others, this could be helpful or harmful to your chances of success in a jury trial. If a jury pool is tough on crime and strong on punishment, then a jury may give more weight to the State’s case. This means the Defendant may have a harder time convincing a jury to find him not guilty.
Another factor to consider is the preconceived notions of drunk driving in the minds of jurors. Most jurors have not been convicted of DUI or DWI, however, they may have a friend of family member that has been affected by drunk driving or alcohol/drugs. The past experiences for jurors or their distaste for drunk driving may sway or affect their decision making in your case.
The facts or each DUI and DWI arrest are different and unique. If the jury thinks the police officer mistreated the driver or if there is a lack of evidence that the driver was drinking prior to driving, they may side with the defendant. However, if the DUI arrest was based on an accident where someone else was injured, the jury may feel sympathy for that victim and be more willing to find the defendant guilty.
What Happens if the DUI Jury Trial Cannot Agree?
If the jury cannot agree, then the case will hang or it will result in a “hung jury.” A jury must be unanimous in their verdict. That means all 12 must agree that you are either guilty or not guilty. If one or more jurors cannot agree with the rest, then the jury is hung and the case will result in a hung jury. In that case, the State has the option to retry the case as many times as needed to reach a unanimous verdict.