Criminal defendants can waive the right to a jury and request a bench trial. Together with your Vancouver criminal defense lawyer, you should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a bench trial. It’s important to have legal advice before making a decision to forego a jury trial in Washington.
People charged with a crime have the right to a trial by jury in most cases. During a jury trial, 6 or 12 people are seated to hear the evidence and decide guilt.
Simple misdemeanors, such as some traffic violations, are not tried before a jury. When people go to court for a simple misdemeanor, a judge hears the case and makes a decision about their guilt.
In federal court, if a defendant faces a sentence of more than six months in jail, they are entitled to a jury trial. States abide by federal laws but may extend the right to a trial by jury to crimes carrying lesser sentences.
Does a bench trial have advantages?
In some cases, a bench trial may be the best choice for a defendant. Here are some possible reasons for choosing a bench trial:
Faster trial: Jury selection may take several days or several hours. A bench trial is often faster to schedule and can begin without the delay of jury selection
Damaging information: Some defendants have a history that makes them unsympathetic. For example, someone might be a member of a gang or group that is viewed negatively. In that case, the defendant might consider a bench trial. A judge may be more neutral on details that have no importance to the case.
Complicated case: Complex laws or complicated facts can be difficult for a jury to follow. If a case depends on a keen understanding of law, a defendant may want to request a bench trial.
Does a bench trial have disadvantages?
In most cases, defendants take their chances with a jury of their peers rather than a judge.
Here are some potential disadvantages of a bench trial:
One person decides: In a bench trial, the judge decides the defendant’s fate. Depending on the details of the case, having just one decider is either an advantage or disadvantage. But, in some ways, it can seem riskier to depend on an individual decision.
The judge hears all the facts: Prejudicial evidence is excluded during a jury trial. But, in a bench trial, the judge knows all the information. A judge may be more impartial than a member of the public, but they may still be affected by damaging information, however irrelevant.
Pressure for a conviction: Judges hold a public office. During re-election time, the public may remember and hold them accountable for unpopular decisions. A judge is supposed to be neutral, but some people suspect there’s pressure to conform to the public’s desire for a conviction.
Both bench and jury trials follow the same process of presenting evidence and making a case. Those convicted, have the right to appeal.
If you are charged with a crime in Clark County, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Vancouver, Washington. The attorney’s at Northwest Legal Advocates will work on your behalf. Contact us for a free, initial consultation.