A Bench Trial Might Be Your Best Bet In Your Criminal Trial

Posted on: 15 May 2015

Even though the right to a jury trial is constitutional, there may times when you want to waive it in favor of one in which the judge decides the outcome (called a bench trial). This may have some advantages to you that are named here.

The Process is Quicker

Not having a jury significantly speeds the trial up in these ways:

  • There is no need for a potential juror questioning or jury selection.
  • Attorneys on either side don't have to make opening or closing statements.
  • Some lines of evidence and questioning don't have to be pursued as painstakingly or explained in great detail since there is only one person to convince and that person is highly educated in law and familiar with forensic science.
  • Judges are often willing to study up on the case more extensively for a bench trial.

May Be More Fair to You Because of Your Situation

A bench trial would be advantageous to you if there has been a lot of pretrial publicity regarding the case and there is a probability that the jury pool is tainted because of it.

If there is to be a substantial amount of evidence to be introduced that is technical or detailed, some things could be forgotten that were introduced early in the trial or there could be some jurors that might not be able to follow the complex logic of the evidence presented. Also, if you are going to be a using a mental illness defense, a judge may recognize how that mitigates your guilt, whereas some in the jury may not accept it as a defense for nearly any reason. This is because there is a public perception that people are "getting off lightly" when that defense is used.

Only one mind needs to be convinced of reasonable doubt, instead of twelve, and if there is a probability of a hung jury, it may be likely the person would be convicted in a second trial since the prosecution has heard all the defense testimonies and would be better prepared to plug any holes in their case. If the jury is compromised, your lawyers will be at a distinct disadvantage. 

When There are Special Circumstances

Your attorney may recommend a bench trial if a certain judge has been appointed to hear your case because they may be aware that the judge would be less likely to convict due to a personal circumstance that would allow them to be more sympathetic to you.

Some judges appreciate it when you save taxpayer expenses by not opting for a jury trial. For this reason, they may be inclined to give you a smaller sentence or penalties if you are convicted.

What the Research Indicates

Studies reported by the Innocence Project indicate that juries can indicate interpret the evidence wrong and convict innocent people or acquit guilty ones in as many as one in eight cases. The statistics also show that a judge would have disagreed with jury verdict in as many as 33% of the cases.

The odds are roughly even on getting a fair verdict, whether you had a bench trial or a jury trial, so if you have some or all of the circumstances mentioned in this article, you should consider a bench trial to speed up the process, especially if your attorney, like those at Balduf William Law Office, recommends it.