Should You Have a Jury Trial in Traffic Court?
Defense lawyers will nearly always say that a jury trial is better for a defendant. This is true, but only if you prepare carefully to fight in a much more complicated legal arena. Not only will you need to pick a jury, but instead of just facing the arresting officer (as often happens when your trial is conducted without a jury), the state will likely send an experienced prosecutor against you, someone who knows the rules of presenting evidence. And since the judge may resent the time and trouble you are causing by insisting on a jury for a case involving a traffic ticket, the judge may insist on your following technical rules of evidence (something it can be hard to do without legal training or experience). So even in states that allow jury trials, many defendants will choose a trial by a judge only.
However, there can be good reasons to insist on a jury trial. The biggest one: If you make a convincing presentation, a jury is probably more likely than a judge to side with you. After all, at least some people on the jury are likely to feel they have been victimized by the traffic court system. In short, if you face serious consequences from a guilty verdict—like the risk of losing your license or an astronomical increase in your insurance premiums—you should at least consider requesting a jury trial where it is available.
The format of a jury trial is similar to a formal nonjury trial described in What Happens in Traffic Ticket Trial by Judge? except for one huge difference: You must participate in the process of choosing a jury. In this article, we go through the steps of a jury trial that are different from a trial in front of a judge. Where procedures are the same, we send you back to What Happens in Traffic Ticket Trial by Judge?, which we assume you have already read.
Not All States Require 12 Jurors or a Unanimous Verdict
Don't assume that because you demand a jury trial you must be convicted by the vote of 12 unanimous jurors. In traffic cases, some states provide for eight-member, six-member or even four-member juries. And other states allow jurors to reach a verdict on a 5-1 or 10-2 vote. Check with the court clerk for your state's rules.