Not all clients require or want a trial. On the other hand our office handles many drunk driving trials each year. While it is literally true that trial preparation begins from the moment we first meet you, preparing for and presenting a full trial on the merits takes considerable time and effort.
In most instances, there are many trials set on the same date. On the court date, the court will select which case is to be tried. The others will be reset for another “trial date.” Because of this practice, as your attorney, we must be prepared for each trial date and block off time for the case to be tried. A typical trial will last one to two days. This time may vary depending on your facts and the court where your case is tried. There are also two types of trials, “jury trials” and “bench trials.”
The purpose of a jury is to perform a specific and unique task, that is, to determine what the true facts of the case really are. Lawyers like to say that juries are “fact-finders”. In the context of a drunk driving case then, the jury will make such determinations as whether or not you were in fact intoxicated, and will also decide the importance to give evidence such as a breath or blood test.
This task can be distinguished from the role of a judge in a trial because judges also perform only a single unique and important task. Judges are there to act as referees. They make sure that the jury is applying the proper law and that the attorneys are not violating the rules in their attempts to assist the jury in interpreting the facts.
Now, when you think of a bench trial, think of the judge performing both functions, that is, acting both as a legal referee, as well as determining the true facts of your case. In Michigan, there are only a small handful of judges throughout the entire state that we would trust to act as a fact-finder in a drunk driving case because it is so rare for a judge to find that you were not intoxicated. Having said this, we have won bench trials in the past. Nevertheless, bench trials are rarely an option in Michigan.
While we are in court, we have no other clients. We will be with you from beginning to end. This helps many clients as trials are an anxious time if you have never been through one before. Trial skills are learned through experience and training. All attorneys with my office are “trial lawyers”. They have been specifically selected for their above-average performance in the courtroom.
If you have selected a jury trial, then the trial begins with jury selection. In Michigan a first or second offense drunk driving will be decided by a jury of 6 persons, while a felony drunk driving will be decided by a jury of 12. The questions that are asked during the jury selection process are called “voir dire”. The purpose of voir dire is to determine if the jurors have an opinion, bias, state of mind or conscientious scruple that would prevent them from being fair and impartial.
After voir dire the Judge will ask your attorney if he or she has any challenges “for cause”. These are specific challenges based on answers one or more of the potential jurors gave to the questions asked. In making a challenge for cause, your attorney must articulate the specific reason he or she believes the juror is unqualified. If the Judge agrees that an appropriate basis to discharge the juror has been demonstrated, then the Judge will “grant” the challenge, and the potential juror will be excused.
A new juror will then be selected from the jury pool, and will be seated in the spot vacated by the excused juror. If the Judge disagrees with the arguments, then the challenge will be denied. There is no limit imposed on the number of challenges for cause that your attorney may exercise. The prosecutor also has the ability to ask for jurors to be excused in this way.
The other type of challenges called a “peremptory” challenge. With a peremptory challenge, your attorney can ask for a juror to be excused without stating a reason. The Court must grant these challenges, but they are limited in number to three for each side (the prosecutor and defense.) After all the challenges have been made by both sided, the jury selection process concludes, and the trial continues with opening statements.
This is where the attorneys get to tell the judge or jury what they believe the evidence will show. They may not argue, and because a defense attorney has no burden of proof, he or she is not required to make an opening statement. Opening statements are often waived by both parties for bench trials.
Next will come witness testimony. Again, because defense attorneys have no burden or proof there is no requirement to call witnesses. You should discuss with your attorney whether or not witness testimony, including that of expert witnesses, will be helpful in your drunk driving case.
This is where both parties tell the judge or jury what they believe the evidence did or did not show. This is where the attorneys can “argue” the facts, meaning tell the jury why they believe the facts and evidence are important to their theory of the case.