2/20/2012Arizona Considers Restoring Jury Trials for DUI
Arizona legislative committee votes to advance bill restoring right to jury trial for first-time drunk-driving defendants.
Since the beginning of the year, certain motorists charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) lost their right to a trial by jury in the state of Arizona. A bill signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer (R) on April 29, 2011 rewrote the DUI statute so that only hardcore offenders with previous convictions or "extreme" blood alcohol content readings had the benefit of having their case heard by a jury of their peers, even though the first-time accused faced the prospect of spending six months behind bars.
The law removing the jury trials took effect December 31, but the state House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 7-0 to retroactively nullify the provision. Many state lawmakers expressed surprise after learning that they had voted for this language, which local prosecutors have been pushing for several years.
"At the arraignment, the court shall inform the defendant that if the state alleges a prior conviction the defendant may request a trial by jury and that the request, if made, shall be granted," Arizona Code Section 28-1381 now states.
The addition of the phrase "if the state alleges a prior conviction" erased the right to a jury trial for those who stand accused of being first-time, minor offenders. Trial lawyers have been looking to challenge the language before an appellate court.
"It has caused a lot of problems because if you have an extreme DUI and a first-time DUI, the judge hears the DUI case, the jury hears the extreme case," state Representative David Burnell Smith (R-Scottsdale) explained at the hearing Thursday. "If you file a motion, you get the extreme dismissed, you'd still not get a jury trial. It's confusing out there. There's constitutional issues, back and forth motions."
Smith's legislation, House Bill 2284, would delete the language about prior convictions and give every defendant the unilateral right to request a jury trial. The measure is retroactive to December 31 to head off any legal challenges.
"It eliminates a real problem with the courts," Smith said.
The bill must be passed by the full House and Senate before being sent to the governor for her approval. A copy of the bill is available in a 30k PDF file at the source link below.