Taking a DWI to Jury Trial

Sometimes I’m approached by folks who want to fight their DWI charge tooth and nail. They’re convinced they were driving impaired, and they are dead certain that a jury of their peers will find them “Not Guilty.”

Whether a client – also known as the Defendant or the Accused – wants to go to a jury trial is always a question for them to make. It’s their life.

Where the case is right to take to a jury, I am happy to fight that fight. Even where a case is difficult, time-consuming, or tough to litigate, I am happy to argue a case to a jury. After all, I’m a trial lawyer.

But here’s what someone should know about how a DWI is handled in North Carolina.

1. Before you reach a jury, you will first need to go through a bench trial. Depending on various factors, it may take anywhere from 6 to 9 months to have you trial heard in District Court.

2. If you win after a trial on the merits in District Court, your case is over. The State of North Carolina may not appeal a Not Guilty verdict by a judge in District Court. (The State may appeal lost motions to suppress where the individual was not arraigned.)

3. If you lose after a trial on the merits in District Court – that is, if you are found guilty – you at your option may appeal the verdict.

4. You or your attorney may give the Notice of Appeal in open court. This is the simplest way of making an appeal. In most cases, a judge will not impose an appeal bond. If no appeal bond is imposed, you may walk out of court with your license in hand (assuming you were otherwise able to drive to court) and proceed on with your life until your case reaches trial in Superior Court.

5. If you fail to give Notice of Appeal in District Court, you must give Notice of Appeal within 10 days of your District Court judgment if you wish to appeal. Notice should be given in writing to the Clerk of Court. In Wake County, the Clerk of Court for criminal court can be found in room 102 of the courthouse.

6. Once you give Notice of Appeal, a new court date – this time in Superior Court – will be set and you will need to appear in Superior Court to be given a trial date. In Wake County so many cases are appealed that there are literally hundreds of people who line-up every other Monday in courtroom 3D.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because you lost your case in District Court does not mean that you will necessarily lose your case in Superior Court. This is because a jury may be more skeptical of the State’s case. Or this is because the State’s case may weaken over time.

It’s important for you to discuss all your options with your lawyer both before you hire the lawyer, but also in the event you should lose in District Court.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.