If you drank a bit too much alcohol before climbing behind the wheel of your car, truck or SUV, your arrest for operating a vehicle while intoxicated may be your first brush with the law. Still, if your arrest becomes a conviction, you may face some significant legal penalties and life consequences.
Unlike many other states, Wisconsin law permits first-time OWI defendants to request jury trials rather than having judges determine guilt or innocence.
The benefits of having a jury trial
The decision to have a jury trial instead of a bench trial is a strategic one. While there are advantages to leaving your fate to a judge, jury trials also offer some benefits. For example, members of a jury may be more likely to put themselves in your shoes or even feel sorry for you.
Furthermore, to secure a conviction in an OWI case, the prosecutor must convince five out of six jurors. If you can persuade two or more jurors, the outcome of the case may be a hung jury. While prosecutors can retry the case, they often decide not to go through the process again. This means you win.
The drawbacks of having a jury trial
If your defense turns on legal technicalities, a jury may not be able to follow. Because judges often know the law intimately, choosing a bench trial may be better. Likewise, jury trials tend to be considerably more public than bench trials. If you want to keep your OWI arrest as private as possible, requesting a jury trial may be a bad idea.
Whether to ask for a jury trial or go with a bench one probably depends on both the facts of your OWI arrest and Wisconsin law. Ultimately, though, if you choose to pursue a jury trial, you must act quickly, as there is a tight time frame for filing your request.