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Law Offices of Aaron Bortel

It can take years for a DUI case to end up in a jury trial. Before we get to that point, there is a lot that must be done. Trials can be very expensive, especially if multiple experts are needed. Depending on the defense, any number of experts could be called to testify (e.g. medical expert, forensic toxicologist, standardized field sobriety testing expert).

In Marin county, there will usually be a trial readiness hearing a day or two prior to the trial. The defendant is required to attend this hearing, which is when motions in limine would be heard and the ground rules of trial would be established. There will also be conferences held between the trial judge and attorneys prior to trial, and the judge will try to put some pressure on both sides to settle the case outside of trial.

The jury selection process would begin by bringing in 60 or more potential jurors who would be asked a series of screening questions by each attorney. Each attorney is given a certain number of challenges, so each attorney will have a partial say in which jurors are going to be on the jury.

Once the jury has been picked and trial has begun, the prosecution will deliver its opening statement first. The defense does not have to give an opening statement, but we pretty much always do. Next, witnesses will be called to testify. The prosecution puts on their case first, as they have the burden to prove the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution will typically bring in witnesses who saw the defendant driving, the police officer who made the stop or conducted the field sobriety tests, and potentially the phlebotomist or EMT who collected a blood sample from the defendant. The attorney’s investigating officer usually testifies last, as this gives them the advantage of knowing what everyone has said before they have to testify.

Next, the defense has the opportunity to present its case, although there is no obligation for the defense to do so. Occasionally, we will choose to have our clients testify, but if we don’t think the prosecution has proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, then we will not have our clients testify. We may call witnesses to testify, and then the prosecution can bring back their witnesses as rebuttal witnesses. Once both sides have presented their case, the prosecution will give its closing statement, followed by the defense.

It’s important for defendants to understand that in DUI cases, everything is stacked against them. A lot of it has to do with results-oriented cases wherein the prosecution just wants a result, regardless of whether it is legal or fair. DUI cases involving horrible results, such as the death of another person, have set the precedent for DUI cases, which is another reason the law is so tough. It’s very difficult to get a not guilty verdict in a DUI case because so many jurors are predisposed to thinking that a DUI defendant is undoubtedly guilty. That attitude is something that does not belong in a courtroom and needs to be readjusted.

The judge and defense attorney will explain to jurors their duty in terms of remaining unbiased, but for most people this is hard (if not impossible) to do. Almost everyone knows someone who has themselves been injured in a DUI-related accident or knows someone who has, so it’s hard to get an unbiased jury in these cases. This is one hurdle of going to a jury trial. A great Marin County DUI lawyer gives a person the best chance of obtaining the best outcome possible.

How Long Does A DUI Trial Actually Take?

The length of a DUI trial depends on how long it takes for us to get sent out to trial. We may not get a courtroom for days or even weeks. In addition, a case could get continued once we get sent out to trial. For example, if trial starts on a Monday, we might not start picking the jury until the next day.

Depending on how many witnesses there are and how many questions the attorney has, there could be several days’ worth of testimony. The prosecutors basically have a manual that tells them what questions to ask in a DUI case, so they’re not necessarily going off the script very much or asking an excessive number of questions.

I’ve seen jury trials in Marin County take anywhere from two days to two weeks. Typically, they take about four or five days, but it will depend on the amount of time that the defense attorney will spend cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses. The length of the case will also depend on how long it takes the jury to deliberate.

Can Counseling Or Alcohol Treatment Affect The Outcome Of A DUI Case That Is At The Trial Stage?

People who get arrested for DUI enter counseling or treatment for a number of reasons. One is because family or friends may push them to do so, knowing that they need it. Depending on the severity of the case or the number of prior cases, an attorney might recommend treatment. Having a defendant seek treatment proactively can demonstrate to the prosecution that the defendant wants to fix their issues, and this can work in the defendant’s favor during negotiations with the prosecutor. However, once we are at the trial stage, having gone to treatment is not something that will be brought up or have an effect on the trial.

Are Most DUI Trials Jury Or Bench Trials? Does It Make A Difference To My Case?

Almost all DUI trials in Marin County are jury trials. The reason being is that the law is stacked against us and most judges are going to be a lot less likely to find someone not guilty, whereas we only need one juror to say “Not guilty” in order to avoid a conviction. A really good lawyer who knows the best defenses to DUI and knows how to get people to listen can oftentimes achieve a not guilty verdict from a jury. If there is a technical legal defense to a state court DUI case in Marin County that we think a judge would be more likely to understand and render a not guilty verdict on, then we may choose a judge trial over a jury trial.

For a misdemeanor DUI case that’s held in federal court in the San Francisco area, there will only be a one-day judge trial. These trials are usually extremely difficult to win. In these cases, the attorney’s job is to paint the defendant in the best light possible in an effort to dissuade the judge from a harsh sentence. Whether someone has been arrested for DUI in Sausalito, Mill Valley, Novato, or anywhere else in Marin County, they need to find the best lawyer they can.

If Someone Is Found Guilty At A DUI Trial, Is The Punishment Or Sentencing Typically Worse Than It Would Have Been Had They Taken A Plea Offer?

Some judges are more likely to do what’s called a trial tax, which refers to a harsher punishment imposed upon a defendant who chooses to take their case to trial rather than accept a plea offer. However, over the course of my career, I have found that judges are less likely to impose a trial tax and more likely to penalize a defendant who testifies at trial. Most of our DUI clients don’t testify, but if they do and if the judge happens to think that there was any misinformation or perjury, then the defendant could end up with a much stiffer penalty.

Many prosecutors will ask for 30 days in jail, which in my opinion is an illegal trial tax. In essence, it is the prosecutor’s belief that the defendant was given an opportunity to take a plea deal and they refused, so they should be punished accordingly. However, no one should be penalized for asserting their Constitutional rights. Somehow, prosecutors and judges get away with this all over the state of California.

If a defendant did not testify at trial and the alcohol level was not more than twice the legal limit, then it is unlikely that there will be a trial tax. In these cases, the worst I’ve seen a judge order was five instead of two days on a work program. The maximum penalty on a first-time DUI offense is six months in the county jail, and the most that a person would serve is half of that. This is likely to happen to someone who had a 0.12, lost a jury trial, and didn’t testify. Even if they did testify and the judge didn’t think they were credible, they’re not going to order anywhere close to 90 days.

Can I Even Afford To Take My DUI Case To Trial?

While a person may not have all the money in their bank account that an attorney is going to charge for a jury trial, they could lose significantly more by not going to trial. For example, if a DUI conviction would result in the loss of a professional license and therefore the loss of income, then it might be the case that a person cannot afford not to go to trial. Most people don’t just hand over the full amount of money to the lawyer, but use credit cards, bank loans, and reach out to friends and family to help cover the costs. Ultimately, a client must decide whether the cost is worth keeping a criminal conviction off their record. With the help of their attorney, they must also decide whether their case has a good chance of winning at trial. In all cases, it is critical for a defendant to make an informed decision with the help of the best DUI attorney in Marin County.

For more information on DUI Defense, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (415) 886-6333 today.

Aaron Bortel

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