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Bench Trial vs. Jury Trial

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Under the U.S. Constitution, all people charged with a crime in the United States have the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. Jury trials are much more common in criminal defense cases, but in some cases, you may face a bench trial. Understanding the differences between jury trials and bench trials is important, especially if you are facing serious charges. 

What Is a Jury Trial?

A jury trial has a jury, which is composed of 12 individuals approved for duty before the case begins. The jury is responsible for determining whether or not the defendant should be punished for the charges that he or she is facing. These individuals will hear evidence and legal arguments during a case.

When the arguments conclude, the jury will meet and deliberate. They will take a vote—which must be unanimous—to determine whether or not the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Once the jury reaches an agreement, they will return to the courtroom and notify the court of the verdict.

A judge presides over a jury trial, but he or she does not decide the defendant’s guilt. Instead, judges have control over procedural and evidentiary issues during the trial. For example, judges make the final decision on who can testify in a case, what documents can be presented as evidence, and what witnesses are allowed to testify about. 

What Is a Bench Trial?

A bench trial does not have a jury present. Instead, a judge presides over the case and makes the final decision as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. He or she will hear all evidence, rule on the procedural and evidentiary issues of the case. Additionally, the judge will take the jury’s role as the case’s primary factfinder.

All defendants have a right to a jury trial, as dictated by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. You do not have the right to receive a bench trial; you could waive your right to a jury trial and receive a bench trial instead. However, the prosecutor or judge could choose to reject your request, 

Differences Between Bench Trials and Jury Trials

Both jury trials and bench trials follow the same rules and procedures. However, there are some key differences between the two types of proceedings. 

  • Decision Making: The primary difference between jury trials and bench trials is the decision-making authority. In a jury trial, decision making is shared between 12 individuals who must deliberate prior to reaching a verdict. During a bench trial, the judge is the sole individual who determines guilty or not guilty.
  • Speed: Bench trials are typically much faster and a bit less formal than jury trials. Jury selection, instruction, and deliberation can take a long time, and bench trials eliminate this process. 
  • Legal Understanding: A judge will likely have stronger legal knowledge than a jury composed of people who do not work in the criminal justice system. Compared to a jury, a judge is less likely to be swayed by political or emotional arguments as well. These factors can make a major difference in the outcome of a trial.

If you are facing criminal charges in Washington state, you need an attorney on your side. As soon as possible following your arrest, contact The Law Offices Of Mark S. Treyz to discuss whether a bench trial or jury trial is best for your case.

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