What Happens in a DUI Trial?

Closing Argument and Jury Deliberations

What Happens in a DUI Trial? Closing Argument and Jury DeliberationsWhen all the witnesses have been examined, and all the evidence received, it is the time for closing arguments in the DUI trial. This is the opportunity for the lawyers to let it all hang out, and explain to the jurors why the evidence does not allow for the conclusion that the prosecutor has met his or her burden: to prove each and every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt, to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.

It is at this point that the judge may read some jury instructions. Most of the jury instructions that are used in DUI cases come from "pattern" or canned jury instructions. In California, for example, we have Caljic, which stands for California Jury Instructions, Criminal. It is a two-volume set of all the law to be applied in a variety of cases. However, the law also recognizes that the pattern instructions may not be sufficient. Therefore, lawyers are allowed to submit customized or "pinpoint" jury instructions that are tailored to the particular facts in a given case.

A successful closing argument in a DUI case will touch on some of the key jury instructions that apply, such as guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant's out of court statements are to be viewed with caution, and that in circumstantial evidence cases, if there are two reasonable views of the evidence, the jury must adopt the one that points to innocence. The outstanding closing argument weaves the facts with the law, without overlooking emotion, pace, and timing. An excellent closing argument will resonate with jurors.

And resonate it must; because the prosecutor has the burden of proving the defendant's guilt, he gets to argue first and last. The prosecutor's argument is the first argument heard, and, because it is their burden, the last word also belongs to them. The most frustrating moment for any defense lawyer is when they are sitting down, having argued, and must listen to the prosecutor without the opportunity to stand up and reply. (The lawyer still may make objections, and a well-placed objection will do much to derail the prosecutor's closing.)

Following the argument of both counsel and final instructions from the judge, the jurors retire to deliberate the fate of the accused. If all jurors agree in the defendant's guilt, a guilty verdict is returned. If all jurors agree in the defendant's innocence, an acquittal, or verdict of not guilty is returned. Or, if some jurors view the evidence one way, and some the other way, the jury will "hang." This is a win for the defendant. Many cases are dismissed following a hung jury. Alternatively, those that are not dismissed may be the subject of very generous plea-bargain offers. It is rare that a hung jury case will be re-tried, although it does happen. It will depend upon the facts of the case, and the way the jury is split. An experienced DUI defense lawyer will know just what to do in each given situation.

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