Under the Sixth Amendment, an accused individual has the right to a jury trial if they are accused of a serious offense. However, some criminal defendants may wonder if they can waive that right and opt for a bench trial instead – a trial overseen and determined by a judge.
A jury typically consists of six to 12 individuals that have limited to no legal background. Instead, they receive their legal guidance from the judge. If a judge determines the trial, they have a thorough understanding of the law and therefore will follow what the law states. While it may seem as if the judge would be less advisable route, leaving a decision up to a jury with no legal background (with jurors who may judge by emotion) can sometimes lead to a less favorable verdict.
Waiving a Sixth Amendment Right
The right to a jury belongs to the defendant, not the court. Therefore, it is the defendant’s choice to choose a judge or jury for their trial. To waive the right to a jury trial, a defendant must:
- Consent (along with their attorney) to waiving their Sixth Amendment right,
- Know what they are giving up, and
- Prove that the waiver is voluntary.
Benefits of Choosing a Bench Trial
When choosing a bench trial, there are several advantages for the defendant, including:
- It will move faster than a jury trial. This is because attorneys do not have to go through a jury selection or wait for jury deliberations.
- A judge has years of experience in the courtroom and knows things that average jurors do not. For example, a judge may not let a witness statement weigh as heavily on their decision as a jury would, since judges know that eyewitness identifications are not always reliable.
- A judge is more likely to be impartial because they are required to follow a Code of Judicial Ethics. If they feel they cannot be impartial, they must recuse themselves from the case – otherwise, they give the defendant an opportunity to file an appeal in the future. Knowing that the judge must be impartial, a defendant will not have to worry about emotions or personal feelings getting in the way of their final decision.
Disadvantages of Choosing a Bench Trial
While a bench trial has its benefits, it also can have serious disadvantages, including:
- A judge will not sympathize with the defendant like a jury will; therefore, a defendant may not receive a favorable verdict.
- A judge may choose a harsher verdict. For example, if a case has the option of a lesser charge or a more serious charge, the judge’s impartiality may force them to opt for the harsher crime, while a jury may be more likely to be guided by emotion and choose the lesser charge.
Speak with a Criminal Defense Attorney First
Deciding whether or not to use a jury or opt for a bench trial is something that you must discuss with your defense attorney. Selecting your method of trial is a key component in your defense strategy, and is something your attorney must help you decide. If you have been arrested, contact The Law Office of Timothy Armstrong, P.A. today. Schedule your consultation by calling 904-356-8618 or by filling out an online contact form.