A bench trial is a trial in which a judge and not a jury decides whether a person is innocent or guilty.
Jury Trial v. Bench Trial
In general, most trials are jury trials. In misdemeanor cases, a jury is made up of 6 people. In felony cases, a jury is made up of 12 people. The jury is made up of people from the community, either the district of the district court or the county in felony cases.
The jury would be made up of hopefully unbiased people that we can question before the trial. The lawyers will have never seen the people on the jury before the trial. In a bench trial, however, we will know the judge. We probably have appeared in front of that particular judge dozens and dozens of times. We may know what views the judge holds.
Criminal defense attorneys know that our chances of success at trial are much higher with jury trials than with bench trials. This is because juries bring that fresh, unbiased viewpoints to the trial. They are not jaded by the system in the same was a judge who has seen too much. They may be willing to listen where a judge will not.
Why Would I Hold a Bench Trial?
The decision to hold a bench trial should not be made lightly. You are giving up an important right. Bench trials would only be held in limited areas.
Perhaps the facts of the case are particularly nasty for the defendant. Such facts might turn off the jurors to a defendant right away. Another instance where a bench trial would be appropriate is a case really centers around the application of a legal principle. Judges are uniquely suited for the application of legal principles because that is what they do.
Requesting a Bench Trial
A jury trial is an absolute constitutional right in our country. When you request a bench trial, you “waive to bench.” That is, you are waiving your right to a jury trial. Because a jury trial is a constitutional right this is a big deal. The judge will make sure you understand that you are giving up a constitutional right.
Sam Bernstein is a Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.
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ArborYpsi Law is a Criminal Defense Law Firm
At ArborYpsi Law, all we do is represent people accused of crimes. In the last week, we have represented people charged with animal cruelty, operating while intoxicated, felonious assault, traffic misdemeanors, and disturbing the peace. No crime is off the table for us. Every person is a potential client. We will never turn someone away because of who they are or what they are accused of.
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