If you are arrested for a first offense DUI in the state of Alabama, you have the option to take your case to trial if you do not wish to try to plead guilty to the offense you have been charged with. If you want to go to trial, your case is usually handled before a judge in municipal court. The process is called a bench trial. Municipal court does not have juries.
However, you can appeal and you can request a jury trial and your case will be heard in circuit court before a jury. The case is heard de novo, even if you have had a trial in the lower court. This means that the jury will hear the case as if for the first time and will make its own decision about guilt or acquittal. For more serious crimes, such as felony DUI charges, your case could begin in circuit court where you have the option of a trial by jury.
While most people think of a trial by jury as the standard process that takes place after someone is arrested for a crime, this is not necessarily true. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that trial by jury is becoming increasingly rare within the United States criminal justice system. The "hallowed American tradition," as the Times calls a trial by jury, is no longer the norm for a lot of different reasons.
In particular, plea bargaining has become increasingly common, especially on the federal level, because defendants are afraid of mandatory minimum prison terms or harsh sentences that can result if convicted. Prosecutors want defendants to plead guilty, and so may offer reduced charges in exchange for a defendant admitting guilt. Many defendants are frightened of the possibility that a judge or jury will convict them for a serious offense, and so they simply agree to the plea.
Just because jury trials are becoming more rare, however, does not necessarily mean that this isn't the right choice for you. A jury trial gives you the opportunity to try to introduce doubt about your guilt to your peers. Instead of just admitting you drove drunk or allowing a judge to decide whether to acquit or find you guilty, your peers get to make the decision.
The process of a trial by jury can be more time consuming and more expensive than either a plea deal or a bench trial in municipal court. You will need to make a strategic decision about whether a trial by jury is actually a good option likely to result in the best outcomes in your DUI case. It is best to talk with an experienced DUI defense lawyer who understands how jury trials work and who can explain all of your options for responding to criminal charges for a first offense DUI.