You have many important decisions to make after a drunk driving arrest. For example, if your case goes to court, you must decide if your case will be decided by a judge in a bench trial or a jury in a jury trial.
There are pros and cons to a jury trial, and you should consult with an experienced Virginia DUI defense lawyer before deciding whether a jury trial is right for you.
Who Serves on a Jury in Virginia?
A jury will be chosen from a pool of potential jurors who are on the master jury list. The master jury list is typically taken from voter registration lists. To serve on a Virginia jury, a potential juror must be at least 18 years old. Generally, a potential juror cannot be a convicted felon unless enough time has passed that the potential juror’s voting rights have been restored and the potential juror has lived in the jurisdiction for at least two years.
A random selection of people on the master list of eligible jurors is called to the courthouse for jury duty on the day of your trial. The number of people who will serve on your jury depends on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor DUI or a felony DUI. Specifically:
- Twelve jurors make up a jury in a felony case.
- Seven jurors make up a jury in a misdemeanor case
One or more alternates may also be chosen to serve on your jury so that your case can continue even if a juror becomes ill or unable to serve.
How to Pick a Jury
A group of possible jurors will enter the courtroom for a process known as voir dire. In a Virginia felony DUI case, 20 potential jurors are present for voir dire and in a Virginia misdemeanor DUI case, 13 potential jurors take part in voir dire.
During voir dire, the judge, the prosecutors, and your defense lawyer will have the opportunity to ask questions of the potential jurors to determine if any of the jurors have potential biases or knowledge of the incident that could impact the case.
Typically, the court will ask basic questions such as:
- Whether serving on a jury will be an undue hardship (and why)
- Whether the potential juror has any conflict of interest (such as a personal relationship with anyone involved in the case)
- Whether the potential juror has any preconceived notions about the case
Then, both the prosecution and the defense will have the opportunity to ask the prospective jurors questions. These questions typically are more in-depth about matters such as:
- Potential bias
- Pre-existing knowledge of the case
- The potential juror’s own background
Both the prosecution and the defense have the right to keep some potential jurors from being seated on the jury. There are two ways to accomplish this, including:
- Challenges for cause. Typically, there is no limit on the number of potential jurors that an attorney may challenge for good cause. A good cause may be bias or incompetency, for example.
- Peremptory challenges. Both the prosecution and the defense lawyer are given a set number of peremptory challenges that they may use to dismiss a potential juror. The attorney does not have to give a reason for dismissing a potential juror if a peremptory challenge is used.
While there are specific procedures for picking a jury, as described above, there is also an art to picking a jury. An attorney’s read of potential jurors and experience picking juries matters. You aren’t guaranteed a perfect jury, but your lawyer will do everything possible to make sure that you have a fair jury.
Therefore, it is important to work with an experienced DUI defense lawyer who can make sure that all of your legal rights are protected from the time that you are arrested for drunk driving in Virginia until the time that your case is resolved.
For more tips on what to do after a DUI arrest, please download our FREE DUI/DWI Arrest Survival Guide now.