Most people, when they think of trials, assume that there will be a judge and 12 jurors in charge of their fates. However, not every trial requires a jury; bench trials are held in front of a judge, who decides the outcome of your case. Your lawyer should review the pros and cons of having a jury trial versus a bench trial depending on the facts of your case.
The reasons a jury trial may be preferable
In criminal cases, the government prosecutors must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. With a jury, if just one juror has a reasonable doubt, then you can’t be found guilty. If there are 12 jurors, the prosecution needs to convince all 12 people that there is no reasonable doubt. If the case is tried before a judge, then the prosecution only needs to convince one person, the judge. Statistically speaking, your odds should be better in front of a larger group of people.
Jurors also tend to be more understanding of human nature; after all, they’re people who have made mistakes, too. Any juror who’s received a traffic ticket or been pulled over by the police, or had a loved one accused of an act he or she didn’t commit may give a person the benefit of the doubt. That juror is less likely to automatically accept the testimony of the police officer or other government witness.
Finally, prosecutors may be more likely to drop a charge or negotiate charges in lieu of a timely and costly jury trial. Jury trials require much more preparation. They require the time of the judge, the prosecutor, the court clerks, and the stenographer. Jury trials take much more time because they involve jury selection, instructions to the jury, and generally more time to reach a verdict.
Reasons to choose to have a judge decide your case instead of a jury
All of this does not mean there aren’t benefits to a bench trial. They are often faster and less expensive, and some judges have been known, given the one-on-one nature of the case, to pursue less severe punishments. Though juries do tend to be more sympathetic, that group mentality can work against you, too – especially if you are charged with a violent crime such as assault or murder, or a crime that is deemed “distasteful” in the court of public opinion.
At the Sevierville law firm of Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, our criminal defense lawyers work aggressively to have your case dismissed or settled before trial. We file motions to suppress evidence. We challenge the basis for a police officer stop, when appropriate. If your case does require a trial to achieve a just result, our experienced trial defense lawyers fight to gain every tactical advantage we can – including helping you choose whether a jury or judge is more likely to decide in your favor.