Have you or a family member ever had a DUI arrest and wonder why it is best to enter a guilty plea in municipal court?
It is not unusual for someone to enter a guilty plea to a DUI in a municipal court or even a District Court in Alabama. The purpose is because a defendant is not entitled to a jury trial unless it is in circuit court. Therefore, I often advise a DUI client to enter a guilty plea or let the court find them guilty so that the client can have a jury trial.
In the case of Woods v. State of Alabama, Woods was charged with a DUI arrest. Woods entered a guilty plea in Montgomery County District Court and appealed to circuit court in order to have a jury trial. The trial court allowed the state to enter redacted evidence of Woods guilty plea during his testimony. Woods’ trial counsel objected and appealed. The court of Criminal Appeals ruled in favor of Woods and the state appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court.
This case is unusual, because the Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals and held that the state or prosecutor can admit the guilty plea as evidence in the jury trial. The rational is that the defendant would have to testify in order for this evidence to come in. The Court further added that the evidence could be weighed or challenged.
I think this case makes it harder for a DUI client to receive a fair jury trial. Most people that serve on a jury are not going to hear evidence of why the person entered a guilty plea. Further, most jurors will not have the knowledge of the legal significance of a client entering a strategic plea in a lower court. The jury will only hear the evidence of a plea and presume the person is guilty.
The rule or takeaway from this case, is that if you ask for a jury trial, do not testify as to the lower court result of your case. As a defendant, do not take the stand, unless you feel you can explain your case.
If you are charged with a DUI in Alabama, call Ingram Law LLC at (205) 656-0044.