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NH DWI jury trials

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An Explanation of New Hampshire DWI Jury Trials – Part 1

This blog is part 1 of a two part miniseries that will guide you through the significant aspects and experiences of a jury trial within the state of New Hampshire.

There are two primary types of trials in New Hampshire:  bench trials, which are conducted before a single judge (no jury), and jury trials, which are held before a jury of either 6 or 12 people who listen to all of the evidence and then determine your innocence or guilt.

Depending upon the specific type of DWI that you were formally charged with, your DWI trial may or may not be held before a jury.

Your Right to a Jury Trial In a DWI Case

Any individual who is charged with a criminal offense, including a misdemeanor DWI charge, retains the legal right to have a trial conducted before a jury of their peers. Should you choose not to have a jury trial and simply ask a judge to decide your case, then you must waive your legal right to a jury trial.

In the state of New Hampshire, traffic violations are not classified as criminal offenses, and because of this, are not deemed eligible for a jury trial. In some New Hampshire districts, if a defendant is being tried for their first DWI offense and the charge is classified as a Class A misdemeanor, then they may be entitled to a bench trial only, which is referred to as a de novo trial.

However, in a de novo trial, if a judge decides the defendant is guilty, then their decision can be immediately appealed to an NH Superior Court for a jury trial to be held.

Jury Trials vs. Bench Trials

Now the question becomes…should you choose to have a bench trial or jury trial in your own DWI case? This is where the skills and expertise of a seasoned DWI lawyer become invaluable.

Your NH DWI attorney will be able to offer their professional opinion and advice as to whether or not it would be beneficial for you to waive your legal right to a jury trial. A seasoned attorney will have, at the very least, a working familiarity with the local judge in your trial, and he or she may have conducted both bench and jury trials before this judge. Such experience will provide your lawyer with an accurate sense of the judge’s stance on DWIs and their ability to be fair-minded.

Another primary reason why your legal counsel might encourage you to forgo a jury trial is if there exist extenuating circumstances surrounding your particular case, like a significant accident, injuries, or even death. When such elements are involved, juries have a tendency to become emotionally involved and may find it difficult to separate their emotions from fact. In such circumstances, your case will be more fairly played out before a single judge who makes the final decision.

Jury trials also tend to require much more time than a bench trial does because a judge is required to offer a jury instructions regarding NH DWI laws and how to go about making a decision. Jury selection for a DWI trial can also take quite a bit of time, because both the defense and the prosecution have a legal say in the individuals who are chosen to sit on the jury. Likewise, lawyers for both sides of the case are required to invest more time into explaining and presenting evidence before a jury that does not possess the same legal background that a judge has.

Essentially what this boils down to is that the extra hours your NH DWI lawyer is required to invest in a jury trial will result in more fees that you must pay, and it can become expensive quickly, especially if you are paying your lawyer by the hour. However, depending upon the circumstances surrounding your case, the outcome may very well be worth the additional expenditures.

Another potential cost that you should be aware of involves the use of expert witnesses. Because the average juror does not have a legal background, there is more pressure to employ the services of expert witnesses to explain to a jury why the prosecution’s evidence against you is not reliable. In a bench trial, this type of evidence is usually not required.

Your New Hampshire DWI lawyer will be able to offer advice regarding which option, in their professional opinion, would be in your best interest. However, the final decision is ultimately yours to make, per your Constitutional rights.

The Presence of More People At Your Trial

In the state of New Hampshire, most criminal trials are open to the general public. However, other than the random law student who is observing the court, the majority of the individuals present in the courtroom will be directly connected to your case.

A judge will, of course, be present, as will a jury after they have been impaneled. A bailiff will also be present. The bailiff is the individual who issues the “All rise” command after a judge enters or exits the courtroom. The bailiff’s purpose in being in the courtroom is to provide order and security and to conduct witnesses to and from the room when it is their turn to testify.

Also in the courtroom, you will find a stenographer, whose job is to transcribe all sayings during the court proceedings. The prosecuting attorney for the state will also be present, and he or she may have clerks or assistants in tow. Your own lawyer will be present and may also have their own assistants present.

Naturally, your own presence is required, as will witnesses for both the defense and the prosecution; however, once the trial starts, they may not be in the actual courtroom since it could cause potential damage to their own testimony if they hear the testimony of other witnesses.

In the NH court system, witness sequestration is left to the court’s discretion and may not always be guaranteed, but your lawyer will more than likely request it anyways. It could become a potential issue to be argued on appeal if the outcome of your trial is unsatisfactory.

Check back tomorrow when we begin to discuss what to expect during your NH DWI trial.

An Explanation of New Hampshire DWI Jury Trials – Part 2

In continuation of yesterday’s discussion about New Hampshire DWI jury trials, today we’re going to discuss what you should expect during your own trial.

How Long Is My NH DWI Jury Trial Going to Last?

In general, jury trials frequently require considerably more time to conduct than a bench trial does. Time must be invested into selecting jury members and into conduction voir dire. Rather than presenting the evidence solely to a judge (who has extensive knowledge of the evidence’s ramifications and who is familiar with the law), the evidence will be presented before a panel of individuals who do not have any prior legal experience, which requires more explanation.

During a jury trial, lawyers must spend much more time justifying why the evidence they are presenting is of importance, why it is admissible in a court of law (chain of custody, accuracy of the testing equipment, etc.), how the evidence was obtained, and other similar factors that a judge would already be familiar with.

Another primary reason why DWI jury trials take up so much more time than a bench trial is due to the fact that a bench trial does not require the use of closing arguments because the presiding judge is already familiar with the law and how to interpret it. On the other hand, the use of closing arguments can be invaluable to a jury. Both opening and closing arguments establish a foundation for the jury, which enables the prosecution to summarize their arguments and a final plea to have you convicted of the DWI. At the same time, it simultaneously enables your defense counsel to paint your character in the best possible light, your case, and the reasons why you should not be found guilty.

Finally, rather than having a single woman or man make the decision regarding your innocence or guilt, 6 to 12 women and men must first discuss your case and attempt to reach a unanimous agreement.

Disadvantages and Advantages of a DWI Jury Trial

If the evidence the prosecution has gathered against you includes BAC levels of .08% or higher, then, in most instances, you will always be better off having your DWI case heard before a jury. It will also be much simpler for your experienced and skilled NH DWI lawyer to convince the jury that there are questions regarding the equipment used to analyze your breath, the tester’s training, or the accuracy of the methods used. Juries are also considerably more willing to hear arguments regarding chain of custody issues.

If you are the type of defendant who could sufficiently rouse the sympathies of a jury, then your lawyer will probably encourage you to choose a jury trial over a bench trial. Regardless of the instructions that the jury receives, each person is human. It is simply human nature to act favorably towards those who can elicit our sympathy. Conversely, it is also true that we tend to be harsher towards those whose appearances do not coincide with our expectations. If this is so in your case, then your DWI attorney may decide a bench trial will be more beneficial in your case.

Finally, bench trials are simply less expensive. A bench trial could also be more beneficial if your lawyer has crafted a strong case regarding why evidence should be suppressed or why criminal charges should be dropped because your legal and Constitutional rights were violated. A judge is going to be well-versed in the legal issues that surround your case.

Your DWI Attorney & Jury Selection

Should you choose to opt for a jury trial, then the first portion of the trial will be devoted to the selection of jurors. New Hampshire has established specific criteria regarding who is allowed to serve on a jury:

§  The prospective juror must be at least 18 years of age.

§  He or she must be a citizen of the United States.

§  They must be able to adequately read, write, speak, and understand English.

§  The juror must not have any prior felony convictions on their criminal record.

§  The juror cannot be physically or mentally handicapped to an extent that it would bar them from effectively serving on the jury.

Approximately once each year, a New Hampshire Clerk of the Court will compile a list of prospective jurors and their names and give the list to the court. Names of prospective jurors are gathered from county and town voter registration records, as well as DMV records.

After a juror has served their time, they are legally exempt from serving on a jury again for three years.

During jury selection, prospective jurors are required to disclose the following info:

§  Whether or not they expect to see benefit from the case’s disposition

§  Whether or not they are of any relation to any person involved with the defense or prosecutorial teams

§  Whether or not they have assisted or advised either side

§  Whether or not they have already formed a personal opinion regarding the case

§  What prejudices they might have regarding the case

§  Whether or not they have previously employed any of the lawyers involved in working on the case

If a juror purposefully misleads a court, then he or she will be dismissed. If their misleading was not intentional, it might not possess much significance, but it will be an avenue that your lawyer can explore with regards to a mistrial.

Once jury selection is complete, the trial then commences.

The Importance of New Hampshire DWI Attorneys

Having a fierce advocate working on your behalf is important in any DWI case, but should you choose to have a jury trial, rather than a bench trial, their skills and expertise become significantly more important. To speak with one of our skilled and experienced NH DWI lawyers, contact our law firm today via telephone, email, or through our website. Remember that your initial consultation is free.



Disclaimer: Past results do not guarantee a future outcome. Results include cases in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Attorney Dan Hynes is admitted to practice law only in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This website may be considered advertising. Contacting us does not create an attorney/client relationship and the information on this site is not legal advice and may be inaccurate or not applicable to your case. Each case is different.

Mailing Address: Dan Hynes PO BOX 598 Merrimack, NH 03054