Criminal defense cases cover both criminal suits — charges brought by the government to punish an individual for an act classified as a crime — and civil suits — claims brought by individuals or organizations as a dispute over rights and duties.
When you are charged with a criminal offense, you typically have two options, trial or plea. You can either proclaim your innocence and take your chances at trial; or your criminal lawyer can work a plea agreement with the prosecution, and you can enter a plea of guilty or no contest in accordance with the plea agreement. If you are charged with a criminal offense which is punishable by more than six months in jail, you are entitled to a trial by jury.
What is a Bench Trial?
The alternative to a jury trial is a bench trial. A bench trial is a trial to the judge. In a jury trial the judge will determine any questions of law and the jury will decide all issues of fact. In other words, the judge decides what evidence is allowed at trial and the jury decides whether or not you are guilty. In a bench trial, there is no jury. It is the judge’s job to decide all issues. In a bench trial the judge still decides issues of law such as evidence and procedure; however, the judge also makes all factual determinations. There are some situations in which there is no right to a jury trial (i.e. misdemeanor crimes that are not punishable by more than six months in jail, juvenile proceedings, etc.).
Should I Have a Jury Trial?
Whether or not you should exercise your right to a jury trial depends greatly on the facts of your criminal case. There can be advantages to having a judge determine your guilt in a criminal trial; however, in most situations a jury trial is preferred when available. One reason for this is that jury verdicts in criminal trials must be unanimous (for a guilty verdict to be entered every single juror must agree that you are guilty). It is usually easier to convince one person out of twelve, or one person out of six, that you are not guilty rather than one person out of one. Either way, if you are currently facing criminal charges, discuss your options with your defense lawyer. Whether you are on trial for a serious assault, drug charges or a DUI; whether or not it is in your best interests to proceed with a jury trial is something that should definitely be discussed with your lawyer.