What can you expect the length of your Jury trial to be in New Hampshire?
Jury trials will often last longer than bench trials; not only is there the time spent on choosing the jury members and conduction voir dire, but instead of presenting the evidence to a judge (who is familiar with the law and the ramifications of the evidence), the evidence will be presented to people without legal experience, requiring more explanation.
In a jury trial, the attorneys must spend more time justifying why the evidence is important, what makes it admissible (accuracy of testing equipment, training of person conducting the testing, chain of custody), how they came to obtain the evidence (reasonable suspicion), and other factors that a judge would already be well versed in.
Another reason jury trials are so much longer than their bench trial counterparts is because closing arguments are virtually unnecessary in a bench trial (the judge already knows the law and how to interpret it), but are uniquely invaluable to the jury.
Opening and closing arguments set the stage for the jury, allowing both the prosecution to summarize his case and make one final plea for your conviction while simultaneously allowing your experienced DWI attorney to paint the best possible picture of you, your case, and why you should be found not guilty.
Finally, rather than just one man or woman making the decision about your guilt or innocence, six to twelve men and women have to discuss the case and try to come to unanimous agreement.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Jury Trial when facing Drunk Driving Charges
If the evidence against you includes blood alcohol concentration levels above 0.08 percent, you are virtually always better off having your case heard by a jury.
It will be much easier for your experienced DWI attorney to convince a jury that there is question as to the accuracy of the breath analysis equipment, the training of the tester, or the accuracy of the machinery used.
Juries are also more willing to listen to arguments about chain of custody issues.
If you are a defendant who would rouse the sympathies of a jury, your attorney may encourage you to have a jury trial.
Regardless of the instructions received by the jury, they are human, and it is human nature to be favorable toward someone who elicits your sympathy.
It is also true that we humans tend to be harder on people whose appearances do not match our expectations, so your attorney may feel a bench trial may be more beneficial to you.
Bench trials can be significantly less expensive.
As well, a bench trial may be the better option if you have a strong case for suppressing evidence or dropping charges based on a violation of your rights, since the judge is well-versed in the legal issues potentially surrounding your case.
Your DWI Lawyer and Jury Selection
Once you have decided to proceed to a jury trial, the first part of your trial is spent choosing the jurors.
New Hampshire has specific guidelines about who can serve on a jury.
The minimum requirements to be a juror include:
The juror must be at least 18 years old
The juror must be a United States citizen
The juror must understand, read, write, and speak English
The juror cannot be mentally or physically handicapped to such an extent that it would prevent them from effectively serving
No one who has been convicted of a felony can serve as a juror in New Hampshire
Once a year, the clerk of the court compiles a list of names of prospective jurors and provides the list to the court.
Jurors are drawn from both the department of motor vehicle records and the town and county voter registration records.
Once a juror has served, they are exempt from serving again for three years.
Prospective jurors are required to disclose the following information:
Whether or not they expect to have any benefit from the disposition of the case
Whether or not they are related to anyone involved in the prosecution or defense
Whether or not they have advised or assisted either side
Whether or not they have already formed an opinion about the case
Whether or not they are employed by or employ anyone involved in the case
Whether or not they are prejudiced in any way regarding the case
Whether or not they employ any of the attorneys involved in the case
Your New Hampshire Lawyer seeking Voir Dire
Voir dire is French for “to see, to speak,” but literally means seeking the truth. It is the interview process by which your attorney and the prosecutor will eliminate jurors.
Both your attorney and the prosecuting attorney will be allowed to dismiss prospective jurors whom they feel would be most detrimental to their side of the case.
Twelve-panel juries are the norm, but six-panel juries are used for crimes which carry a maximum sentence of less than one year in prison.
Before voir dire, your attorney will be given a copy of the juror’s questionnaire, which each juror is required to fill out when called for duty.
Your attorney will be trying to determine if each juror has any extreme prejudice against drunk driving.
Your attorney will tell the juror a small amount about your case, probing all the time for any indication that the juror would not be able to make a fair and just decision, but has preconceived notions about your particular crime (or race, or gender, etc).
New Hampshire statute allows for the attorneys to question the prospective jurors for a “reasonable” amount of time.
The judge will also examine the jurors, as well as give instructions and information about the case and the proceedings to the jury pool.
The questions the attorneys ask must be carefully constructed to elicit information without attempting to “plant a seed” in the juror’s mind about the trial or the expected outcome of the case.
Your attorney will be looking for a specific type of juror that he or she wants, and certain ones that he or she will definitely want to exclude.
For example, if a prospective juror was an active member of M.A.D.D. or had lost a relative to a drunk-driving accident, your attorney would probably move to eliminate that juror from the jury pool.
In addition, if the juror is friends with anyone involved in the prosecution, or has other relationships that would pose an ethical dilemma to the decision-making process, your attorney will remove the juror “for cause.”
Peremptory Challenge in your DWI defense
In addition to being able to eliminate any juror for cause, both the prosecutor and the defense attorney can eliminate a limited number of jurors with a peremptory challenge. This simply means that they do not have to have a reason for not wanting the juror; they just don’t..
Your experienced DWI attorney will have a strongly-developed sense about potential jurors and these peremptory challenges may be based more on instinct and gut feeling than on actual evidence of prejudice.
In all but murder cases, New Hampshire limits the number of peremptory challenges to three.
The state is allowed an equal number of peremptory challenges per each defendant, which, in DWI cases, is typically one person.
If there are only six people on the jury, the peremptory challenges are limited to two.
Once those challenges are exhausted, the court is responsible for ensuring the remaining jurors are capable of serving without prejudice.
What happens when the New Hampshire court finds out about Misstatement of Jurors in your Trial
If a juror willfully misleads the court, they can be dismissed.
If it was not willful it may not have much significance, but it will be an avenue your attorney will be able to explore for a mistrial.
This post contains excerpts from The DWI Book, the definitive guide to protecting your rights in the face of New Hampshire’s tough DWI/DUI laws