For a defendant who has been charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in the State of Nebraska, there are basically only three ways for the case to be resolved – dismissal, plea agreement, or trial. If the case does go to trial, however, it could be a trial by judge or a trial by jury. If you are currently a defendant in a Nebraska DUI case, and you are considering taking your case to trial by jury, you are likely have a number of questions about the jury trial process. Of course the best person to answer your questions is your Nebraska DUI lawyer given the individual nature of a criminal prosecution. However, it may make you feel empowered to learn a bit more about the jury trial process in general as well. For example, how to DUI lawyers select a jury for a trial and will you be able to participate in the selection process?
Jury Trial vs. Bench Trial
If you have been accused of a criminal offense in the United States, you have a right to a trial by jury that is guaranteed to you by the U.S. Constitution. You may waive that right, however, and elect to have a “bench trial” instead. A bench trial follows the same rules and process as a trial by jury. However, in a bench trial a judge determines the outcome instead of a jury. There are some strategic reasons why a bench trial may be preferred over a jury trial that you will want to discuss with your defense attorney. If you do opt for a jury trial, selecting your jury will be an important part of that process.
Jury Basics in Nebraska
Although the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to a trial by jury in a criminal case, the individual states get to determine things such as how many people are on the jury and from where the names for potential jurors will come. In Nebraska, for example, a jury will consist of either 6 or 12 people, depending on the level of the offense. More serious offenses will have a 12-member jury while less serious offenses are made up of a jury of just 6 people – plus an alternate for each jury. Prospective jurors, known collectively as the “jury pool” are summoned by the county after being randomly selected from a county voter registration, state I. D., or driver’s license list.
Selecting Your Jury – the Voir Dire Process
Once you and your attorney decide you want your case to be decided by a jury, the court will be notified and a date set for your trial. The court office responsible for summoning prospective jurors will then send out a jury summons to each person on the list for jury duty for that day. Some jurisdictions also send jury questionnaires with the jury summons while others have people fill out a questionnaire when they report for jury duty. The purpose of the questionnaire is to gather basic information about the prospective juror and to find out if there is a legal reason why that individual cannot serve on the jury.
On the day of your trial, the jury selection process, formally known as “voir dire,” begins when 6 or 12 prospective jurors are brought into the courtroom. The judge may question the individuals and then both your attorney and the prosecuting attorney will typically be able to ask questions of the prospective jurors. Either side may “strike” or “challenge” a prospective juror “for cause,” meaning there is a legal reason why the individual cannot serve on the jury. A challenge for cause requires the attorney to articulate a reason. Each side is also allowed a specific number of “peremptory challenges.” These allow you to strike prospective jurors for any reason (other than discriminatory reasons). As people are excused as a result of a challenge, additional prospective jurors are brought in for questioning. Once both sides have used up their peremptory challenges, the remaining people become the jury. The voir dire process allows you to participate in the process of selecting your own jury.