The word “trial” will conjure up many images for people, particularly those who are facing criminal charges. However, not all trials are alike. Most people have heard of a trial by jury, but in most situations, a criminal defendant is allowed to choose to have a trial heard by a judge in lieu of a trial by jury. This is called a bench trial. Here, we want to discuss bench trials versus jury trials. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how could this affect your case?
What is a Bench Trial?
For state court criminal proceedings, the defendant (the person charged with a crime) may face a jury trial or a bench trial. A bench trial is a trial in which the judge makes procedural decisions about the case, hears the evidence, and decides whether or not the defendant is guilty.
Bench Trial vs. Jury Trial
A bench trial is going to be very different from a trial by jury. In general, a trial by jury means that a defendant’s case will be heard by 6 to 12 people, called the jurors. In a jury trial, it will be the jury that makes a decision about whether or not the defendant is guilty. In a jury trial, a judge will still preside over the case. The judge’s job in a jury trial will be to answer legal questions, give instructions to the jury, determine what evidence is admissible during the court proceedings, and determine whether or not a witness can be asked a particular question.
In a jury trial, the jury will listen to all the evidence that is presented and then make a decision about whether the facts are true or false. They will then render a “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict.
In a bench trial, there will be no jury that listens to the evidence or decides the truth of each party’s case. Instead, the judge will take over this role. The judge will still make key rulings about the types of evidence that can be admitted in the case, but they will also make the final decision about whether or not the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
Both parties in the case, the defendant and the prosecution, will have the same rights in a bench trial as they do in a trial by jury.
Is a Bench Trial Best For Your Case?
When determining whether or not a bench trial or a jury trial is more likely to result in a favorable outcome for your criminal case, you need to work with a skilled criminal defense attorney to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each.
- Ask your criminal defense attorney about the judge selected to preside over the case. A skilled attorney will usually be able to offer some insight about the judge.
- You will need to look at the judge’s tendencies concerning cases similar to yours. For example, it may be known that a certain judge dislikes defendants who refuse field sobriety tests in DUI cases. In this case, it may be better to opt for a jury trial.
- If your attorney has experience in the jurisdiction in question, then they will likely have a good understanding of how a jury may respond to your case.
- Consider the prosecutor in the case. Talk to your criminal defense lawyer about the history of the prosecutor and their successes.
There are reasons that a bench trial may be more beneficial. This can include issues that may be incredibly complex and hard for a jury to understand. Additionally, a jury trial will likely take more time and cost much more than a bench trial. A skilled criminal defense lawyer from Ciccarelli Law Offices will help you make the decision that is best for your case.