DUI is a common offense in Atlanta, so DUI defendants are traveling a well-worn path.
All Atlanta DUIs are initially assigned to the DUI division of the City Court of Atlanta. However, any defendant who requests a jury trial can have their case transferred to the State Court of Fulton County. This means that you and your attorney get to choose where your case will be resolved. If you request a jury trial, it will take between one and two years for your trial to occur.
If you keep your case in City Court, it will be heard by Chief Judge Christopher Ward. He has handled tens of thousands of DUI cases and prides himself on efficiency and predictability. Cases are handled using standard procedures and 98% of cases that remain in City Court are resolved within six months of arrest. As a general rule, City Court is a good place for cost-effective guilty pleas and a bad place for challenging a DUI that is more than a fraction over the legal limit. If you took a breath or blood test and the result was over the legal limit (0.080 for those 21 and over, 0.020 for thus under 21), trying your case in City Court is a bad idea because your odds of conviction are high.
City Court is an excellent place to review the prosecution’s evidence and see if you have a good case.
Juries are less predictable than judges. Some jurors may distrust police officers. Others may have good friends or relatives who are cops. Misdemeanor trials have six-member juries. The six jurors are selected from a “venire” of 14-16 people. The venire is randomly chosen by a computer, and there is a great deal of luck involved in who is on it. Attorneys are allowed to ask the venire members questions to see if they can be fair. Any juror who admits to being biased can be struck from the panel. In addition, each side gets three “peremptory strikes” which can be used to eliminate the three people who it thinks will be least sympathetic. The trial jury is composed of the first six people on the panel who are not struck. No one knows who is on the jury until minutes before the trial begins.
Most jurors know very little about DUI law and procedures. This makes them more persuadable than seasoned judges and prosecutors. However, jurors are still somewhat predictable. If a jury learns that a driver took a breath or blood test and was way over the legal limit, it will probably convict. If the driver took and passed a blood or breath test, the jury will probably acquit. If the driver refused a blood or breath test, juries tend to focus on whether there is a video and whether the driver looked intoxicated. This is very subjective and is why jury selection is critical. Construction workers and school teachers may have very different ideas of who has had too much to drive. These are general tendencies I have observed in my eight years of practice as a DUI attorney. There are no hard and fast rules for how jurors think.
Before you pay for a jury trial, you should view the prosecution’s evidence with your attorney and determine what your chances are. Under Georgia law, you and your attorney have the right to see any videos of your arrest and the incident report before trial. These items can be viewed while your case is still in city court.