Jury Trial in NC DUI Cases | Charlotte DWI Lawyers
Jury Trial: Your Best Option?
Sometimes, a jury trial is your best strategy. And other times, it is not. In the end, everything depends on the individual facts. Because each case is different, every case must be independently evaluated for bench or jury trial. If a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is relatively high, this may not be a good case for trial in front of a judge. However, this same scenario could warrant a jury trial if the video evidence does not show expected impaired behavior. While it may not be your first choice, a jury trial may be your best option.
In every case, our Charlotte DUI lawyers assess how our clients “look” on video. In our experience, video evidence is usually the defining difference between guilty and not guilty. If a person is truly “drunk” or “impaired,” you should expect to see certain classic behaviors at a minimum. We all know what “drunk” sounds like and looks like. If we do not see or hear it, the person is not guilty. And a machine should never take the place of our common sense and life experiences.
Psychology of a Jury Trial
Because juries are made up of people, you have to understand the psychology of a jury trial. From their perspective, the judge is the only one viewed as neutral or impartial. While the prosecutor is there to win for the State, they get a pass from the jury. Instead, they represent “law and order.” On the other hand, the person charged is viewed as “probably guilty” even though we are to be presumed “innocent.” And, of course, the criminal defense lawyer is only there to “get the client off” at any cost. During opening statement, the defense attorney must neutralize these stereotypes in a jury trial. So how is this done? If jurors do not trust you, then help them trust themselves. After all, every one trust their own good judgement. Right? In trial, cases are won or lost based on jury perceptions. Here is how we do it.
Reptile Theory in Criminal Jury Trial
For reptile principals applied to jury trials, we credit David Ball Ph.D. for our successes. Dr. Ball is a national jury consultant who teaches lawyers how best to present their cases to juries. While his books and seminars usually apply to civil cases, the same approach can be modified for criminal trials. Under reptile theory, the basic premise is that people care about what affects them. If you convince a jury they could be wrongfully accused, then you are on your way to winning your case. Instead of telling jurors what to conclude, help them reach your position on their own. Give them facts but no conclusions. By letting them “connect the dots,” they now embrace your position as their own.
Jurors Initially Trust the State
Although most people do not trust government, they initially side with the prosecutor at the beginning of a jury trial. Because the prosecutor represents the “people,” jurors do not always associate the State with the government. But we know the “State” and “government” are the same. However, that view can change once they realize it is the State versus an individual. And the individual today is the client. Next time, it could be any one of the jurors. In turn, they now want to give to your client what they would want. Now, fairness and presumption of innocence actually means something.
So why do jurors typically follow this pattern? Well, psychologists opine that people want “structure” in society and identify with “law and order.” Therefore, any person charged with disrupting that order should be held accountable. This very powerful premise must be addressed early and throughout trial. Otherwise, the defense attorney’s closing arguments will not be heard favorably.
Gap in Time Before Testing
If there is a significant gap in time between time of arrest and BAC testing, we will also look at a jury trial. In South Carolina, a suspect must be breath tested within two (2) hours of arrest or blood tested within three (3) hours. Otherwise, any results are excluded. Unfortunately, there is no such time limit in North Carolina. The law of North Carolina speaks of having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 “at any relevant time after the driving” although that term is not defined clearly. Nevertheless, juries tend to appreciate the uncertainty of whether someone is impaired when stopped and actually driving on the road in cases where there is a significant, and certainly substantial, delay in testing. As DUI defense lawyers, our job is to highlight every instance of reasonable doubt. And that’s just what we’ll do.
Performance on Roadside Testing
Of course, where there is video evidence, we carefully review how a person appears and sounds. Are they steady on their feet? Do they sway when standing still? Is their speech slurred? Performance on roadside “field sobriety” tests is also an important factor. Very few people, other than police officers who practice regularly, can successfully complete the “walk and turn” and “one leg stand” tests.
These “tests” are difficult to perform in a totally controlled, clinical setting. Out on the street with all of the other stressors and distractions, they are virtually impossible for the average individual attempting them for the first time. Even under ideal conditions, they still are not absolutely reliable as a true measure of impairment. Nevertheless, prosecutors routinely focus a substantial amount of time in trial to these tests. Of course, if a person staggers or falls during the WAT or OLS, this aspect of any video will be highlighted by the State in closing.