Criminal trials can be intimidating because of the harsh potential penalties and the complex legal procedures involved. One important aspect to consider is whether you will have a bench or jury trial.
Most people are somewhat familiar with the concept of a jury trial. Several ordinary people from the community are selected to act as jurors in a criminal trial. The jury hears all evidence and arguments, deliberates for some time, and delivers a verdict regarding the defendant’s guilt. What some people do not realize is that this is not the only option. A bench trial is when there is no jury, and the judge takes over the jury’s role of fact-finder. There are advantages and disadvantages to either method, and you should speak to your lawyer about which is best for your case. Certain defendants might benefit from a jury trial, while others might prefer a bench trial.
When preparing for your upcoming criminal trial, our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys can help you weigh the pros and cons of bench and jury trials. For a free case review, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.
What Are Bench Trials vs. Jury Trials in Philadelphia Criminal Cases?
Anyone who has ever seen a legal drama on TV can tell the basics of how a jury trial works. Juries are made up of people randomly selected from the surrounding community. They are not required to be legal professionals, nor do they need any legal training or education to serve on a jury. They are tasked with listening to all evidence and arguments the prosecution and defense present and reaching a verdict.
Jury trials are so important to our system of justice that criminal defendants are guaranteed the right to a jury trial in criminal cases in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States Constitution.
The idea behind jury trials is that adding normal members of the community to the legal process makes the criminal justice system more transparent. People from the community can participate in the justice system and influence important legal decisions. Juries are also praised for adding common sense to an otherwise cold and calculating system of law. If you know you want a jury trial, our Bucks County criminal defense attorneys can help you through the jury selection process.
A bench trial proceeds in the same way as a jury trial, except there is no jury. Instead, the judge takes over the jury’s role as fact finder and determines the final verdict of the case. This kind of trial is known as a bench trial because the verdict is handed down from the judge’s bench rather than from a jury. Bench trials may be beneficial for defendants whose cases are overly complex or too emotionally charged for a jury to handle.
Benefits of Bench and Jury Trials in Philadelphia
Jury trials are a cornerstone of our criminal justice system and tend to be considered the default when it comes to criminal trials. As talked about earlier, juries are important because they make the criminal justice system more transparent and allow for an injection of common sense into the decision-making process.
The law does not usually provide for things like sympathy, remorse, and compassion. Jurors bring these human elements with them when they deliberate on a criminal case. Even if the prosecutor has a strong case against you, a compassionate or sympathetic jury might reach a verdict in your favor. Our Northeast Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys can argue your case in a way that appeals to the compassion of the jury.
Bench trials also come with certain advantages in the courtroom. Criminal cases are often riddled with legal and factual, and having a bench trial might be helpful because it allows the more experienced and knowledgeable judge to reach an informed verdict. A bench trial should also be considered if your case is highly publicized, emotionally charged, or contains inflammatory evidence that might lead a jury to reach a verdict based on anger, not the law.
Disadvantages of Bench and Jury Trials
When preparing for your criminal trial, we must consider the drawbacks of bench and jury trials in addition to the advantages. In a jury trial, jurors are not legal professionals. While this allows for ordinary people to use a commonsense approach to the law, it also allows for some serious errors. Jurors who do not understand how to apply the law to the facts of your case might reach incorrect or unfair verdicts, and undoing these verdicts is incredibly difficult.
Bench trials are also far from perfect. Although a judge is more capable of applying complex laws to equally complex facts, they often make rulings based only on hard evidence and procedures. Things like compassion and sympathy that might influence a juror are far less likely to enter a judge’s decision-making process. Our Montgomery County criminal defense attorneys can discuss your case with you and help you decide between a bench or jury trial.
Deciding Between and Bench and Jury Trial in a Philadelphia Criminal Case
When making this decision, we must consider all possible pros and cons of bench and jury trials. If your case has been in the news and drawn public backlash or outcry, a bench trial might be best. On the other hand, if you are a first-time offender with a compelling story, a jury might be swayed to your side.
Generally, defendants should request a jury trial if they are facing strong incriminating evidence that is difficult to argue against. Even if you cannot undermine the evidence against you, you can still appeal to a jury’s human compassion and understanding. Our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers can help you decide.
Criminal defendants have the right to jury trials only in cases of “serious offenses,” which the Supreme Court of the United States has determined to be any case where the defendant is facing at least 6 months of incarceration. Otherwise, you will have to go through a bench trial. In Pennsylvania, this would include felonies and most misdemeanors. However, infractions and citations do not come with jury trials.
The Commonwealth has the same right to a jury as you do. Even if you want to waive your right to a jury trial in favor of a bench trial, the prosecutor must agree to the arrangement. If the prosecutor refuses, you might have to go through a jury trial.
Contact Our Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers for Advice
Deciding between a bench and jury trial is a big decision that should not be made without the advice of legal counsel. Our Delaware County criminal defense attorneys can help you make the right call. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.