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Jury Trials for DUI


I was summoned for jury duty this week and found myself selected for a jury panel in a DUI case in Torrance. Although I have known the Judge on the case personally for over fifteen years and although I am a DUI Defense Lawyer in Los Angeles, this did not automatically disqualify me for jury duty on the case. The judge asked me questions concerning my experience and whether I could be fair. I felt like saying “Are you kidding?” but answered his questions in a professional manner knowing that the Prosecutor would use his first peremptory challenge to excuse me anyway.

The thing that interested me the most was listening to all the other potential jury members talking about how they could not be fair to the defendant because it was a DUI case. The theme was that they did not like drunk drivers, that they thought it was wrong to drink and drive (as if anyone supports drinking and driving), they had a relative who was a victim of a drunk driver, and on and on. One wonders whether the same kind of comments would be made in a theft or assault case. I doubt it.

This illustrates the fact that there has been so much negative media attention to DUI cases that many potential jurors are prejudiced from the beginning and cannot get over that prejudice. The jurors who expressed an overwhelming bias were excused for cause, but others were left on the panel for the public defender to relieve with a peremptory challenge. However, all the negative comments during jury selection created an impression for me that the defendant was not going to get a fair trial with this panel. The tone had already been set for the trial.

Winning jury trials in DUI cases takes a lot more effort, knowledge and expertise than other criminal cases. Not only do we, as defense attorneys, have to deal with the facts, but we also have to try to eliminate or neutralize the prejudice that flows in the community about drinking and driving.