Criminal Jury Trial v. Criminal Bench Trial

Criminal Jury Trial v. Criminal Bench Trial

The Process of a Criminal Jury Trial:

A jury trial is determined by a selected panel of the defendant’s peers. During the voir dire phase of the trial, both the defense attorney and prosecutor ask potential jurors questions under oath in order to discern their likelihood of serving as impartial members of the jury. The jury is typically made up of twelve individuals that have been screened through the jury selection process. They must evaluate the evidence offered in the court case, and they must weigh and discuss discrepancies in the presentation of evidence. At the beginning of a trial, the judge provides instructions to the jury about their fact-finding role. The jury’s role is to decide whether the prosecution has proved the defendant guilty or not of the charges against him after hearing the evidence and legal arguments. In a death penalty case, the judge is called on to determine the sentencing.

Advantages of a Criminal Jury Trial:

The added formalities in a jury trial can have benefits. For instance, a bench trial does not need jury instructions for obvious reasons. Jury instructions, however, can potentially offer grounds for an appeal later on.

Juries can be more sympathetic
Jury trials can often be favored in cases where the facts are particularly interesting or the defendant is a particularly sympathetic party. Juries are often more easily swayed by appeals to emotion and humanity than judges. If the prosecutor comes off as a bully, this could also lead to the jury even more likely to support you as a defendant.

Multiple Jurors
A defendant doesn’t want their fate in the hands of just one individual, like in a bench trial. A jury trial allows for multiple people to deliberate before a verdict is rendered. In some instances, a case could have particular circumstances that a jury would better understand and find a defendant not guilty of a technical violation of the law.

No preconceived perceptions of you from a judge
In a jury trial, you should be in front of an impartial jury, whom has no prior knowledge of you as a defendant. This is a big advantage because if the judge knows your criminal history, as you’ve been in front of them in the past, you may not think they can put that prior knowledge behind them when ruling on this case.

The Process of a Criminal Bench Trial:

The judge of a bench trial is also provided with a stipulation of facts instead of the presentation of witness testimony and documentary evidence to determine the case facts. He or she will make the rulings, hear the evidence, and decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.     

Advantages of a Criminal Bench Trial

Bench trials are often…
less time-consuming
than jury trials. A bench trial is usually a quicker way to complete a case. It can be scheduled sooner and does not require a jury selection or jury instructions, both of which make the trial process last much longer.

less complex than a jury trial. If information comes out that puts the defendant in a bad light, even if the information is irrelevant to the charge and the judge instructs the jury not to consider it, jurors might have a tough time setting aside the information. A judge in a bench trial might be more neutral than a jury and better able to focus on only information relevant to the case.

less formal than a jury trial. This can be nice because trials are already stressful enough as is. The defense attorney and prosecuting attorney are sometimes permitted to have discussions and even reach agreements on certain facts relevant to the case in a bench trial. 

Disadvantages of a Criminal Bench Trial:

One person decides
At a bench trial, the defense or prosecution only has to convince ONE person of a defendant’s guilt or innocence, while at a jury trial, this increases to convincing all 12 jurors.

The judge knows all the evidence
At either a jury or bench trial, the judge decides what evidence will be admitted. Prejudicial, irrelevant, or untrustworthy evidence in excluded, and ideally, the jury never hears it. But at a bench trial, where the judge is the jury, it might be hard for the judge to disregard damaging evidence that is technically inadmissible, no matter how conscientious the judge might be. 

The judge will follow the rules
In some cases, the jury will not follow the rules and will acquit on emotional or political grounds instead. A judge is not likely to rebel in this way.

Pressure to convict
Some experts question the neutrality of judges when deciding whether a defendant is guilty. Critics suspect that, because they hold public office and may have to stand for re-election, judges may be tempted to please the public’s perceived desire for conviction.

At Ryan Holloway & Miller, we look at each case individually to evaluate if a jury or bench trial would be more beneficial for our client. Contact us today by calling (406) 542-2233.