The Minnesota DWI court process varies on a case-to-case basis, although the majority of all DWI cases in the state are resolved before trial. If the case does proceed to trial, however, the suspect may opt to be tried before a judge or before a jury of your peers.
Does it matter whether your DWI case is argued in front of a jury or a judge? Most defense lawyers will likely tell you that a jury trial is more advantageous. The answer, however, is it depends.
In a court trial or bench trial, a judge will be the one deciding whether or not there is sufficient evidence to find you guilty of DWI.
If you opt to be tried by a jury, you must participate in the process of selecting the jury. If you are being charged with a misdemeanor or a gross misdemeanor, you will be tried before a jury comprised of six members. If you are being charged with a felony, you will be tried before a jury made up of 12 members.
In the state of Minnesota, the entire jury’s decision must be a unanimous one for you to be found guilty and for sentencing to follow. If the jury’s verdict is not unanimous and even just one juror believes that you are innocent, then the charges made against you will be dismissed.
When deciding between presenting your case in front of a judge or a jury, there are a number of factors you first need to take into serious consideration.
Should you go with a jury trial, you can certainly expect the process to be lengthier. Before your case gets tried, your attorney will have to go through the process of selecting a jury. This can be the most crucial element of the entire process. Generally speaking, your attorney and the prosecutor, with the judges involvement, will go through the process of “voir dire” which involves the questioning of potential jurors to determine their impartiality. Many trial lawyers will tell you that their case can generally be won or loss at this stage. After a jury is selected, both the prosecutor and defense counsel will then be allowed to present opening statements prior to presenting evidence/witnesses. This would also be the order of process at a court trial.
Certainly, a jury trial may be seen as more beneficial to you if you potentially face severe consequences. With such high penalties, it may be better to risk the jury’s verdict rather than on the verdict of a single judge. As explained above, in a jury trial, out of six or twelve jurors, only one juror has to be convinced that you are not guilty for there to be no conviction. Also, if you are able to make a presentation that is convincing enough, then jurors may also be able to relate with being a victim of the traffic court system.
Regardless, one thing is certain, if you are charged with a DWI offense and face the potential of a conviction, you must seek the help and aid of an experienced trial lawyer. It is not wise or advisable for an individual to represent themselves at a trial. The trial process is complex and can be full of potential pitfalls. It is only a trained lawyer that will have the knowledge and experience to navigate and present your case in the most advantageous manner.