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Types of DUI Trials in Michigan

In Michigan, there are two main types of trials: bench trials and jury trials. While you are probably familiar with a jury trial, you may not know what a bench trial is or how the two differ.

The main distinction between these two types of trials is that in a jury trial, a jury composed of six or 12 people (depending on the type of case) acts as the fact-finder, while in a bench trial, the judge acts as the fact-finder.

As the prosecution and the defense present their cases, the jury or judge must make decisions with regard to the facts of the case. Some of the relevant facts in a drunk driving case include:

  • Whether or not the driver was intoxicated
  • Whether or not the chemical breath or blood test is reliable
  • Whether or not the police officer is telling the truth with regard to the traffic stop, investigation, and arrest

The Michigan DUI cases are typically heard in a district court. Most Michigan DUI cases, also known as OWIs, are misdemeanors, and therefore heard in Michigan’s district court level. District courts are smaller subsets of the overall court structure, generally, they are community or small county courts.

Jury Trial

Ultimately, the jury members must decide whether these facts point to the innocence or guilt of the defendant. Drunk driving cases are almost always tried before a jury. The reason for that is that many of the judges are going to side with the prosecutor and the police officers. It is difficult in many cases to sway a judge and have them believe something other than what the numbers on the machine say.

Generally speaking, it is almost always better to have a jury trial in a drunk driving case for a number of reasons. First, the six-person jury in a misdemeanor case and the 12-member jury in felony cases are meant to act as a safeguard for the defendant. In jury trials, all jury members must deliberate on the facts and agree to the ultimate verdict; in a bench trial, on the other hand, the fate of the defendant rests with just one person.

For the most part, the attorney and defendant want to make sure that the jury is capable of having an emotional response when it comes down to a drunk driving defense and making sure that they understand that they could be in the same position as a person being accused.

Bench Trial

In a bench trial, however, there is no jury. The judge acts as both the keeper of the law and the fact-finder of the case being heard. In specific cases, a judge can be essential to having a successful drunk driving defense success, especially if the judge tends to be open minded. A local attorney might have an understanding of what judges are more open-minded and may result in a better outcome. Similarly, bench trials are important whenever there is a certain factual circumstance where maybe a jury member might have some kind of bias or convict on an emotional basis.

In cases where there is injury or death involved, judges might have a more logical approach as opposed to an emotional response, this is especially important in cases involving death or injury. This would be a consideration as to why somebody would want what they call bench or judge-based trial.

Length of a Case

The average drunk driving case is supposed to be completed within 77 days in the Michigan courtroom. However, in practice, the average drunk driving case can stay between three and six months from the beginning of the case in the court system. However, that being said, any kind of drug case or case that has blood can take sometimes upwards of even a year to be filed.