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Interactions, Police, Rights

Resolution #1: Know Your Rights

The right to a jury trial is one of the must fundamental constitutional rights that you have. However, many people unknowingly waive this right because they do not timely hire a criminal defense lawyer. In Indiana, if you are charged with a misdemeanor offense, you must request a jury trial in writing at least 10 days prior to your initial trial date. If you fail to file a written jury trial demand, you waive your right to a jury trial. Misdemeanor offenses include public intoxication, drunk driving (operating while intoxicated), criminal mischief, and battery. People who attend their initial hearing without an attorney almost never understand this right and often fail to timely request a jury trial.

There are numerous reasons to request a jury trial, even if you intend to seek a plea agreement. The threat of going to trial by jury gives you leverage to negotiate your case. Prosecutors and police think that you are guilty or you wouldn’t be charged. However, many misdemeanor cases are filed on weak evidence, especially in misdemeanor cases such as public intoxication and battery.

Charges of public intoxication are often based solely on subjective opinions of a police officer. The police reports usually claim that the defendant smelled like alcohol, had red watery eyes, spoke loudly, and appeared intoxicated. In many public intoxication cases, there is no admissible breath test. So the totality of the evidence is that the defendant looks like they have been drinking and their eyes are red. It is not illegal to drink and be in public. Jurors will understand that the smell of alcohol is irrelevant, because it is not illegal to drink. Your eyes may be red because you are tired, you have been around smokers, you wear contacts, or numerous other reasons. Your speech may be loud or slurred because the police make you nervous. Who among us does not slow down when a police car is behind us, even if we are not speeding? To a juror, there is often reasonable doubt as to whether a person is intoxicated, when the sole evidence is the officer’s opinion.

Battery cases are also often based solely on subjective opinions. In almost every battery case, there is an argument for self-defense or defense of a third party. The evidence in many battery cases is the statement of the person who claims to be the victim and possibly their friends. Their statements regarding the alleged battery are self-serving and almost always exaggerated. The supposed victim of battery is not likely to tell police that they started the fight, either verbally or physically. Jurors may find reasonable doubt in a battery case where the defendant was provoked or the alleged victim was a willing participant.

We are in the first week of 2010 and during the course of the year numerous people will be investigated for alleged criminal acts. New Year’s is always accompanied by charges of public intoxication, drunk driving, criminal mischief, and battery. Both innocent and guilty people will be arrested and the outcome of their respective cases can be influenced by requesting a jury trial. This is one of many reasons that you should hire an attorney immediately if you are charged with a crime. The most important thing that you can do to defend yourself is to know your rights.