Judge vs. Jury Trial for a First-Time OWI Case

Judge vs. Jury Trial for a First-Time OWI Case

Wisconsin state statute provides for stringent laws when it comes to Operating While intoxicated (OWI) offenses. In addition to this, the law provides a mechanism for trial — bench trial and a jury trial. As such, if you are accused of a first offense OWI in Wisconsin, it is imperative to understand that you have a right to request a jury trial distinct from a bench trial.

Wisconsin’s jurisdiction envisions different procedures for a jury trial distinct from those in other states. Therefore, it is paramount for you to understand the procedural aspect of a jury and the circumstances that may prompt you to request one.

Here is an elucidation of what you need to know about a jury trial.

Limitation Period

If you are accused of a first offense OWI and require a jury trial, then one of the most important things to note is the time frame for demanding a jury. The provisions of law require that the demand letter be submitted within ten days after making a plea of — not guilty. Failure to do this may render your request time-barred.

Why Should You Resort to a Jury Trial for an OWI?

Municipal courts of the jurisdiction in Wisconsin are mandated to handle first offense OWI cases. However, where you make a demand for a jury trial, the case proceeds to a county’s circuit court.

It is worth noting that bench trials are distinct from a jury trial. Typically, a bench trial is characterized by a judge who acts as an impartial adjudicator in the proceedings. This means that the judge’s role is to decide the case after both the prosecutor and defense attorney present their cases.

A bench trial, on the other hand, is characterized by jurors. The purpose of a jury is to assess whether the prosecution has sufficiently proved their case on the first offense OWI charge, after which they make the final decision.

How May You Benefit from a Jury Trial

  • Mistrial Is a Possibility

6-person jury handles a first-time offense for an OWI charge in Wisconsin’s jurisdiction. This is based on the fact that the charge is not treated like a criminal case. That being said, a successful verdict for this charge requires a 5/6 vote from the jury. Failure to achieve the bare minimum results in a hung jury and consequently a mistrial. A hung jury means that either the prosecutor can decide to proceed and try you again, or they can decide against it-which may be a win for you. 

  • Jurors Do Not as Heavily Rely on the Law

A common phenomenon manifest in most judges’ decisions is that they tend to rely on the textual interpretation of the law. This means that they may ignore specific circumstantial evidence that is important to your case. On the contrary, a jury envisions a different approach to the handling of the evidence. Therefore, you may end up having your charges dropped based on circumstantial evidence adduced in front of them.

What Are the Possible Downsides of a Jury Trial?

Despite the multiple benefits, a jury trial also has certain disadvantages. The disadvantages include:

  • Trial Length

For a jury trial to occur, the jurors must first be selected. The process of selecting the jury entails questioning the pool of potential jurors, to determine a final jury that will not present bias. This is a time-consuming process. Additionally, the judge must explain pertinent laws to the jurors to ensure informed decisions are made. These processes lead to a typically longer trial in the case of jury trials, when compared to bench trials.

  • Judges focus more on the law

Technical cases may prove to be problematic when handled by a jury. This is because some technical cases require an understanding of the law to arrive at the best decision. In these circumstances, bench trials are more favorable for the defendant.

Contact Us

It is a daunting task to decide what type of trial will most greatly benefit your case. However, a qualified attorney can assist you to make an informed decision based on the evidence adduced by the prosecutor and the circumstances at hand. 

Contact Waukesha Criminal Defense for consultation, and let us help you maintain a good record.