Defendant’s Right in a DUI Case

Defendant’s Right to a Jury Trial in DUI/DWI Cases

A defendant who has been charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) does not necessarily have a right to a jury trial. Whether a defendant has the right to a jury trial will depend upon the state.

A Walnut Creek DUI Lawyer Examines Different Jurisdictions

For example, anyone charged with a DUI in California has an automatic right to a jury trial, says a Walnut Creek DUI lawyer. However, in Arizona any criminal offense for which the maximum statutory penalty is less than six months incarceration is considered a petty offense to which the right of trial by jury does not attach.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant the right to a trial by jury. This right is applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, both federal and state defendants have a federal constitutional right to a trial by jury. However, although the Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to a jury trial, there is an exception to this right for petty crimes or offenses.

Therefore, the issue of whether a DUI or DWI defendant is entitled to a jury trial depends upon whether the drunk driving offense is considered "petty" or "serious." Generally if an offense has a maximum prison term of six months or less, a court will find the offense to be "petty" and not eligible for a jury trial. Offenses that have maximum prison terms greater than six months are generally found to carry a jury trial right.

Walnut Creek DUI Attorney on Additional Penalties

However, a court may find an offense with less than a six-month maximum term to be a serious offense if there are additional statutory penalties that are so severe as to show that the legislature considered the offense serious. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to suggest what penalties are severe enough to turn a petty offense into a serious offense. Typical additional sanctions such a driver license suspensions (for up to 90 days), fines of up to $5,000, and community service requirements have not been found severe enough to increase the crimes from a petty crime to a serious crime.