The facts in a Florida DUI trial case will almost always be heard by a jury of six people. In order to get there, a group of about 16 people called for jury duty will come into the courtroom, and the lawyers begin asking questions. This process is called Voir Dire, and the purpose is to learn which potential jurors carry a bias into the case. Jurors who cannot give the accused a fair trial will not be among the final six chosen to decide the verdict.
Some important questions Mr. Rudenberg has asked at previous DUI trials include, “who here believes it is illegal to drink and drive?” Almost every juror will raise their hand. Then Mr. Rudenberg would say, “put your hands down, you are all wrong,” followed by an explanation that the law actually allows drinking and driving–only driving while someone’s normal faculties are impaired is illegal. “If it were illegal to drink any amount and drive a car, then why would bars have parking lots?” Asking these sorts of questions can reveal which potential jurors have such strong opinions about alcohol that they could never give the accused a fair trial. Also, asking questions like those above remind potential jurors that the issues in a DUI case are not simple, and if the State cannot prove it’s case beyond every reasonable doubt, the verdict must be not guilty.
The opening statements are a chance for the State and the Defense to tell the Jurors what they expect the evidence in the case to be. What the lawyers say is not evidence, but it provides a road map for the Jurors to understand what issues are important. Usually, the Jury selection phase and opening statements happen back-to-back, sometimes with a break for lunch in between.
Next, the State presents all the evidence they have to prove the charge. This can include playing video footage of the accused, having police officers testify as to what they observed, giving breathalyzer test results to the jury, to name a few common forms of evidence in a DUI case. Every time a State’s witness testifies, Mr. Rudenberg will have an opportunity to cross examine the witness. This means asking about the witness’ ability to remember the events in question, motives for why the witness might be less-than honest, pointing out inconsistencies in the previous testimony, and a number of other tactics to criticize the State’s case. Often, tempers flare during cross examination and emotions run high. If the Jury believes a State’s witness is overly aggressive or cannot control his temper, that may call the witness’ credibility into doubt.
In some trials, the Defense will put on witnesses or evidence to rebut the State’s case. This can include the accused testifying, an independent witness who contradicts the testimony of police officers, or any other admissible evidence that contradicts the State’s case. Often, there is no reason for the defense to present its own witnesses; the State has the entire burden at trial. For example, there may be no other witnesses than the accused, who always has the right to remain silent. Attacking the State’s evidence during cross examination does the job of “presenting a case.” If the State’s evidence falls short of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the only lawful verdict is Not Guilty, whether the defense calls witnesses or not.
At the end of all the evidence, the prosecutor will stand up and give a final argument as to who the verdict should be “Guilty.” Then Mr. Rudenberg will stand up, and remind the jury of every flaw in the State’s case, and that even a single reasonable doubt about any element of the crime of DUI requires the Jury return a verdict of Not Guilty. This is the time for impassioned argument, and logically explaining how the State’s evidence falls short. After Mr. Rudenberg presents his closing, the State gets one final try to rebut the argument, and then deliberations begin.
The Jury then goes into the jury room, and considers all the evidence it has just heard. Every juror must agree to the same verdict, either guilty or not guilty. If the Jury cannot agree, the case is a mistrial and may be tried again. The Jury can review evidence, ask the Judge questions, and take as much time as it wants to decide the verdict. The time usually ranges between thirty minutes and three hours for a DUI case.