When you are facing a DUI charge in Pennsylvania, you need to do everything you can to protect yourself. DUIs carry steep penalties under Pennsylvania law, and schools, employers, lenders, professional associations, and other entities will all look unfavorably on a DUI conviction.

Does protecting yourself mean requesting a jury trial?

The short answer is, “Maybe.” In Pennsylvania, some DUI defendants have the right to a jury trial, and some do not. Additionally, even if you have the right to request a jury trial, this doesn’t necessarily mean that requesting one is your best option.

When Do You Have the Right to a Jury Trial for a DUI in Pennsylvania?

So, when can you request a jury trial after a DUI arrest? As a general rule, requesting a jury trial is only an option for repeat DUI offenders. The more DUIs you have on your record, the more serious the penalties you are facing—and the more likely you are to have the right to a trial by jury. When you contact an experienced DUI defense attorney, your attorney will be able to tell you if requesting a jury trial is an option in your case.

What if You Aren’t Entitled to a Jury Trial?

If you aren’t entitled to a jury trial, this means that your case will go to a “bench trial” (unless you resolve your case before your trial date arrives—more on this below). In a bench trial, the judge serves in the jury’s role. The judge listens to the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense, and then the judge applies the law to the facts to determine whether a guilty verdict is warranted.

How Do You Choose Between a Jury Trial and a Bench Trial (if You Have the Option)?

Let’s say you have the right to a jury trial in your Pennsylvania DUI case. Should you exercise your right to a jury trial, or should you choose a bench trial instead? Both options have benefits and drawbacks. Some of the main benefits of choosing a jury trial include:

  • The ability to participate in the jury selection process
  • The requirement for jurors to return a unanimous verdict in order to convict
  • The opportunity to rely on jurors’ sympathies and reliability
  • The opportunity to file a motion for acquittal before the jury deliberates
  • Access to additional grounds for appeal if you get convicted at trial

In contrast, some of the main benefits of choosing a bench trial include:

  • The judge will have a better understanding of the complex legal issues involved in your case
  • The judge may be able to better assess the complicated facts of your case
  • The judge will not have any preconceived notions or make any assumptions about your guilt simply because you got arrested
  • The judge will be wholly impartial regardless of the facts of your case
  • Bench trials tend to be quicker and less expensive than jury trials

For more information on how to choose between a jury trial and a bench trial, you can read our previous article, Arrested in Pennsylvania: Should You Request a Jury Trial?

Alternatives to Taking Your DUI Case to Trial

Regardless of whether you have the right to a jury trial, it is important to consider the other options that are available for resolving your DUI case. While presenting your case to a judge or jury might be your best option, it also might not. Depending on the circumstances of your case, your options may also include:

1. Entering Into a Diversion Program

If you are being charged as a first-time offender, you might not be entitled to a jury trial, but you may have the option of entering into a diversion program. For example, you may qualify for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). Under the ARD program, you must complete an alcohol education class, undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation (and comply with any treatment recommendations), pay certain fines and costs, and agree to 12 months of supervision. But, if you complete the ARD program successfully, at the end of the program your DUI charge will be dismissed. You won’t have to go to trial, and you won’t face any further consequences as a result of your drunk driving arrest.

2. Negotiating a Plea Bargain

A second option for resolving your DUI case without going to trial is to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor’s office. If the prosecutor’s office is willing to negotiate—and if there is a good chance that going to trial would result in a conviction—then accepting the consequences of a reduced charge (typically reckless driving) may be the best option under the circumstances at hand. To secure a favorable plea bargain, you will need an experienced DUI defense attorney on your side who can negotiate effectively on your behalf.

3. Getting Your DUI Charge Dismissed Before Trial

A third option for resolving your DUI case without going to trial is to have your charge dismissed during the pre-trial process. You need to have grounds for dismissal—so this won’t be an option in all cases. But, if it is clear that prosecutors don’t have the evidence they need to convict you if the prosecution’s evidence is inadmissible due to a violation of your constitutional rights, or if you have other grounds for dismissal under the U.S. Constitution or Pennsylvania law, then your DUI defense attorney may be able to file a motion to dismiss that closes your case before your trial date arrives.

Discuss Your Options with Philadelphia DUI Defense Attorney Brian Fishman

If you are facing a DUI charge in Pennsylvania, making informed decisions about these types of issues will be critical for minimizing the consequences of your arrest. Philadelphia DUI defense attorney Brian Fishman can help. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with Brian as soon as possible, call 267-758-2228 or tell us how we can reach you online now.