Most states do not provide a right to a jury trial in traffic ticket cases, but you may want to exercise this right if you have it. If you prepare for the additional complexities of a jury trial, you may gain an advantage by having a jury rather than a judge hear your case. You should be aware that you will need to comply with the rules of evidence in these situations, and you may lose some sympathy from the judge by making the process more complicated. However, members of the jury may have gone through similarly frustrating experiences in the traffic system, and they may be less willing than a judge to expose a driver to serious penalties, such as the loss of their license.
A jury trial may not require a unanimous verdict for a conviction. Sometimes a jury can reach a verdict when one or two members disagree. This is even true when a jury is smaller than 12 members. In some states, a jury may consist of six or eight members, and four-member juries are not unknown.
Similar to ordinary criminal trials, a traffic ticket case that is tried to a jury will start with the jury selection process. However, there are some differences from a criminal case in how this process unfolds. A judge may ask all of the questions to potential jurors, for example, rather than the driver and the prosecutor asking questions. This process is known as voir dire, and it is meant to uncover biases held by potential jurors. Some possible sources of bias include a criminal record, a pre-existing relationship with someone involved in the case, or a job in law enforcement.
If a judge does not ask questions thoroughly, you can accept the jury or ask questions of your own. In most cases, accepting the jury may make sense to avoid frustrating a judge who already may resent going through this extra step. On the other hand, if the judge has asked questions in a perfunctory manner, you may need to ask more specific questions. You should avoid repeating questions that the judge has asked.
Removing a Juror
You can remove a juror whom you feel will be biased against you in either of two ways. First, a challenge for cause means that the juror should be disqualified because they will not be able to make an impartial decision. In most cases, the judge will exclude this type of juror automatically because their bias will emerge in response to the judge’s questions. If you need to make a challenge for cause, you should handle it courteously to avoid offending other jurors.
Second, you can make a peremptory challenge to a juror who does not have an obvious bias. You are limited to a certain number of peremptory challenges, which depends on your state but often ranges from three to 10. Peremptory challenges cannot be used in a manner that discriminates based on a juror’s race or sex, although it would be extremely unlikely for the judge or prosecutor to bother raising this issue in a traffic case.
You should trust your instincts in making a peremptory challenge, even if you cannot identify an obvious reason why a juror should be excluded. Some types of people whom you may want to exclude are people who do not drive, people who seem unhappy about being called for jury duty, and people who appear to have a very different lifestyle or worldview from yours. Again, you should handle peremptory challenges courteously so that other jurors do not get a bad impression of you.