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Prior DUI Convictions and Jury Trial

In defending a DUI with prior convictions at jury trial, defense counsel must make a timely motion to bifurcate the issue of whether the defendant has prior DUI convictions. This means that reference to the prior conviction or convictions should be removed from the complaint prior to trial. Following a guilty verdict on the DUI charges, the issue of the priors can then be addressed by the court. Either the existence of the priors is admitted for the purpose of sentencing, or the fact of the priors is disputed and then tried before the same jury.

Generally, judges will grant a timely motion to bifurcate the issue of prior convictions for DUI because of the prejudice to the defendant if the jury was aware of the prior conviction in reaching a verdict in the present case. If the prejudicial effect of the evidence outweighs any probative value, the evidence should not go before the jury.

However, I am due to try a DUI in Pasadena Court for a client who has two prior convictions for DUI. The prosecutor has filed a motion to allow her to introduce evidence of the priors at trial to establish the defendants propensity to drive while under the influence of alcohol. My argument will be that the relevance of the priors in establishing evidence of the defendants propensity to drink and drive is significantly outweighed by the prejudice to the defendant in allowing this evidence. Simply put, the defendant would be denied the right to a fair trial. Few juries would find a defendant not guilty in these circumstances never mind the strength or weakness of the prosecution case. The issue will be decided by the trial judge prior to jury selection. If the evidence is allowed, I expect the matter to be appealed.

An arrest for a DUI can be a life changing experience, and for most, it is a one and only time event in their lives. However, for those who re-offend and find themselves facing a lengthy license suspension and jail time, hiring an experienced DUI attorney is essential.
If you find yourself in this position, please call us for a free consultation.