Most criminal cases are resolved before they go to trial. But when a trial is required, you should know how the process works, what takes place in the courtroom, and how your lawyer will protect you throughout the trial as we work to win your acquittal.
At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we have decades of experience helping people in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties avoid the negative consequences that result from DUI convictions. Our years of DUI defense practice give us insight into how the prosecutor thinks, and how to challenge the state’s evidence against you.
This blog post explains how a DUI trial is conducted in Florida, and how your case can be favorably disposed of without a trial. If you need help with a DUI in the Tampa – St. Petersburg area, contact Stechschulte Nell today.
The Florida DUI Trial
Right to a Trial
First, let’s review the defendant’s basic constitutional rights as they relate to criminal trials. The defendant’s trial must be conducted with these rights always preserved:
- The prosecution must prove every element of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt
- Must be a fair trial before an impartial jury
- The defendant must be presumed innocent
- A jury verdict must be unanimous in Florida in a criminal case
- Defendant has the right to confront the witnesses and cross-examine them
- Defendant has the right to the assistance of counsel
- Defendant has the right to testify in their own defense if they choose to, but they are free not to testify and the jury cannot use the defendant’s failure to testify for any purpose in deliberating
- Defendant has the right to subpoena witnesses and present their testimony in defense
- Defendant has the right to allocution before sentencing (right to speak)
- Defendant has the right to appeal
Pretrial Negotiations by Experienced DUI Defense Lawyers
Experienced DUI defense lawyers know that the best trial is the one you avoid if possible. When a case goes to trial, complete control of the case goes into the hands of the jury and the judge. The best DUI defense lawyers can tell in advance of trial if their client has a great chance of winning, a good chance, a poor chance, or no chance.
When qualified DUI defense lawyers assess the facts and the law, including their client’s prior record, we will work hard to save the client from a trial if it is in their best interest. Negotiating a good disposition with the prosecution is the result of knowing the law so well that the prosecutor would rather make a deal than risk losing the trial.
In Florida, DUIs can be reduced to reckless driving, or with early participation in alcohol counseling, community service, and the right history, the accused could be accepted into a pretrial intervention program that will lead to no record of conviction.
Get the best DUI lawyer in your area. In Tampa and St. Petersburg, contact Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law.
The trial process begins with jury selection. Working together, the client and the attorney pick 7 (6 plus 1 alternate) people who they think will be fair and give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant. The prosecutor is trying to find people who will lean more toward the state’s case. Only by years of trial experience do lawyers learn what to look for in a juror, but there is no way to predict their verdict in advance.
When the jury is selected and sworn in, the prosecutor gets to give the jury a preview of the state’s evidence against the defendant and then asks them to come back with a guilty verdict at the end of the case.
The defense attorney then gets the chance to give their opening statement telling the juror what the evidence will be that favors the defendant and asking for them to find the defendant not guilty at the end of the case. Sometimes, the defense lawyer might “reserve” their opening statement until after the state rests its case. There are strategic reasons to do this in some cases, but it is generally better to give an opening at the start of the trial so the jury doesn’t think there’s only one side to the story.
Prosecution Puts Its Case in Evidence
The prosecution then begins its case by calling witnesses. In a DUI, that is generally the arresting police officer, the breathalyzer operator (if different), the keeper of records documenting the breathalyzer’s updated certification, and maybe a lab tech. In some cases, other witnesses could include other motorists or hospital attendants.
Defense Cross Examines Each Witness
As soon as the prosecutor finishes asking each witness their questions, the DUI defense lawyer gets to ask the witness questions. The goal is to expose weaknesses in the witness’s ability to observe what they claim, remember it, or that they’re not reporting it correctly. The defense also tries to show the witness has a bias against the defendant, or that there are reasons to doubt their credibility or reliability.
After presenting all the evidence, the prosecutor will rest.
Defense Moves to Dismiss
When the state rests its case, the defense attorney will move to dismiss the charge, claiming that the state has failed to prove the case and that no reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty based on the evidence presented so far. These motions are typically denied by the judge, but they may be granted in a case with the right circumstances. The motion is also required to preserve all the defendant’s appellate rights.
Defense Case Begins
The defense has no obligation whatsoever to produce any evidence or witnesses. The entire burden of proof is on the prosecution. But in some cases, a witness may be able to provide valuable evidence favoring the defendant. Often, the defendant wants to testify in their own defense. The defense attorney asks the witness questions, followed by the prosecutor’s cross-examination.
The Defense Rests
When the defense case is completed, the defense rests and the defense lawyer renews their motion to dismiss (or motion for judgment of acquittal). If that motion is denied, then the attorneys make their closing arguments.
Because the prosecution has the burden of proof, they get to do their closing argument first. Then the defense lawyer presents the closing argument in which they highlight and review all of the weaknesses in the prosecution’s evidence. Finally, the prosecution gets to go again, this time to rebut the arguments made by the defense lawyer.
Judge Instructs the Jury
After the closing arguments by counsel, the judge tells the jury that they are the judge of the facts, but the judge is the only one who can tell them what the law says. Both lawyers can ask the judge read instructions to the jury that the lawyers drafted. The judge might or might not. If the defense lawyer objects to the judge’s instructions to the jury, they object, and the appeals court will decide who is right if the defendant is convicted. The judge explains what laws the jury must follow, and then sends the jury into a private room to deliberate.
If the jury is unanimous, then it will find the defendant either guilty or not guilty. If they are not unanimous, then the trial ends in a mistrial. In that case, the prosecution can bring the case to trial again. But in most cases, a mistrial signals to both sides that the jury did not accept their evidence completely. The lawyers will usually work out a favorable negotiated plea to another, lesser offense than a DUI.
Learn More > How to Challenge a Florida DUI
Tampa Criminal Defense
If you have been charged with a DUI, contact our experienced DUI defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell for a DUI case review today; 813-280-1244.