Drunk Driving Defense Lawyer

Drunk Driving Bench Trial vs. Jury Trial

Michael J. Zarrella, Esq

Law Office Address:

127 Dorrance Street

Providence Rhode island 02903

Cell: 401-523-5271

Office 401-490-6820

Fax: 401-490-3207


DUI Defense Blog

Rhode Island's best DUI blog

Attorney Michael Zarrella's blog is very informative with respect to DUI law, criminal defense and many of the trends in the Rhode Island judical system. Lawyers often read attorney Zarrella's blog to keep abreast of recent updates in the law.

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Bench Trial v. Jury Trial in RI Drunk Driving Cases

Rhode Island Drunk Driving and Criminal Defense Attorney 

Anybody who has been charged with a DUI in Rhode Island has the right to a trial. Under Rhode Island law, you have the option of having your trial in district court, heard before a judge, or have your case proceed to Superior Court and have a trial by a jury or a judge sitting without a jury. If you decide to have your case stay in district court, you are giving yourself two bites at the apple.   If you lose your case in district court you still have a de novo appeal to Superior Court.  An appeal that is de novo, means that the Superior Court can rule on the evidence and matters of law without giving deference to the district court’s findings. In other words, it is equivalent to starting the case a new. If a drunk driving defendant elects to have his or her case heard in district court, they will be entitled only to a trial by judge called a "bench trial.” There is no option of a jury trial while in district court.  A skilled Rhode Island drunk driving defense attorney should be familiar with each of the local judges and should craft a defense strategy accordingly. Some defenses will work in front of one judge but not another. A good Rhode Island drunk driving lawyer can help you obtain the best possible outcome. Often a District Court a judge will find a person guilty of a crime, only to have a jury trial come back not guilty after an appeal to Superior Court.  Furthermore, the District Court may give a sentence which is much harsher than you would get in Superior Court.  You need a skilled lawyer that will get you the best results possible in your criminal case.  

Bench Trial Versus Jury Trial in Rhode Island.

In Rhode Island criminal cases, a bench trial (also called a "trial by court") is a trial where the judge after hearing a trial renders the verdict and, if necessary, the sentence. No jury is involved. A jury trial is a legal proceeding in which a jury makes a decision on the defendant's guilt or innocence.  This is distinguishable from a bench trial, in which a judge makes the decision on guilt.

Under Rhode Island Law, a Bench Trial Verdict Can be Appealed.

In cases where a defendant is found guilty of a crime or crimes through a bench trial, those verdicts can be appealed. However, if the State loses the case, they are barred by the rules of double jeopardy and may not appeal the verdict to a higher court.  Double Jeopardy applies even if the state wins one count and loses the other. Only the count the state won can be appealed and the other count is forever a not guilty.  So, if a defendant is charged with drunk driving and a reckless driving charge, if he wins one count and loses the other, only the count he lost can be appealed. 

What are the benefits of jury trials over bench trials in Rhode Island?

It is often argued that jury trials are fairer because the defendant is being judged by twelve members of society, rather than a judge. It is a common belief that a defendant will often have a better chance of acquittal from a jury than a judge sitting without a jury.  However, this is not a blanket rule.  There are many cases in which you may chose to have a bench trial because of the facts and circumstances of that case as well as what judge will preside over it.  The only way to really know is to consult a criminal defense lawyer, so that he or she can look at your case and advise the best route to take.