NH Jury Trials Explained Part 1

Posted by Ryan Russman | Oct 28, 2013 | 0 Comments

The Jury at your DWI hearing

This article is part 1 or 2 that will walk you through the experience and significant aspects of a jury trials in the state of New Hampshire.  Check back on Thursday for Part two of NH Jury Trials Explained.

There are two main types of trials: bench trials, which occur before a judge alone, and jury trials, which occur before a jury of six or twelve people who hear all of the testimony and determine your guilt or innocence.

Depending on the type of DWI you have been charged with, you may or may not have your trial before a jury.

Right to a Jury Trial in New Hampshire

Any person charged with a crime, including misdemeanor DWI charges, has the right to have a trial by a jury of their peers.

If you choose not to have a jury and just have a judge decide your case, you have to waive your right to a jury trial.

Traffic violations are not considered to be crimes in New Hampshire, and as such, are not eligible for a trial by jury.

In some districts of New Hampshire, if you are being tried for your first DWI offense and it is a misdemeanor A charge, your trial may be a bench trial only, called a de novo trial.

However, if the judge finds you guilty, you can immediately appeal that decision to the superior court for a jury trial.

Let your DWI Attorney advise you on having a Bench Trial Versus Jury Trial

Your DWI attorney will be able to advise you on whether or not you are better off waiving your right to a jury trial.

Your attorney will most likely be familiar with the judge; he or she may have had experience with both jury and bench trials before that judge and have a true sense of the judge's fair-mindedness and stance on DWI.

Another reason your attorney might encourage you to waive your right to a jury trial is if there were extenuating circumstances involved in your case, like a serious accident, injury or death.

Because the jury is likely to be more emotional with their decision, your case might play out more fairly with a judge making the decision.

Jury trials require more steps than bench trials, because the judge must instruct the jury about the law and how to make a decision.

Selecting the jury can take time, as both the prosecution and the defense have a say in the jurors being chosen.

During the trial, the attorneys on both sides may have to spend more time presenting and explaining evidence because the jury does not have the same legal background that a judge has.

This means extra hours and potentially extra charges you will be paying your attorney, particularly if you are paying your attorney by the hour – but the outcome may well be worth it depending on the circumstances of your case.

Another additional cost may be due to more pressure to have expert witnesses to try to explain to a jury why the evidence that appears to be against you should not be relied upon.

This type of testimony may not be required in a bench trial.

Your attorney will be able to advise you about your decision; ultimately, though, the decision is yours to make, as it is your constitutional right.

People at the Trial While you are facing your Drunk Driving Penalties in New Hampshire

Most trials are open to the public, but other than the occasional law student observing the court, most of the people in the courtroom will be somehow connected to the case.

There will be the judge and eventually the jury, once they are impaneled. There is also a bailiff present.

The bailiff is the person who says, “All rise” when the judge comes in to the room or leaves the room.

He is there to maintain security and order and to bring witnesses in to the room when it is their turn to testify.

There will also be a stenographer – the person who transcribes everything that is said during the proceedings.

The prosecutor will be present and may have assistants or clerks with him or her.  Your attorney will be there, of course, and may have assistants as well.

You will be there, and so will the witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense, although they may not be in the actual courtroom once the trial starts, because it can potentially damage their testimony to hear other witness' testimony.

In New Hampshire, sequestration of witnesses is at the discretion of the court and not always guaranteed, but your attorney should request it anyway, because it may become something that you can argue on appeal (concerning the testimony of witnesses) if the outcome is undesirable.

This post contains excerpts from The DWI Book, the definitive guide to protecting your rights in the face of New Hampshire's tough DWI/DUI laws

About the Author

Ryan Russman

Attorney Ryan Russman has dedicated his career to fighting for the rights of New Hampshire citizens. His practice, based in Exeter (Rockingham County) New Hampshire, is limited to cases involving DWI and DUI, other motor vehicle and criminal cases, and many cases involving personal injury. He is, however, best known as one of New Hampshire's leading legal authorities on DWI.


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