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Jury Trial or Bench Trial? That Is a Good Question

Jury Trial or Bench Trial? That Is a Good Question

In this article, I will give a brief overview of factors to use in deciding the type of trial to select in Illinois criminal courts. It is important to note at the outset that most criminal cases do not proceed to trial. The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved by way of plea negotiations. In some instances, where the prosecutor and defense lawyer are not able to resolve the case, the matter must proceed to trial. The decision whether to go to trial rests solely with the defendant. In other words, it is the decision of the person who has been charged with the crime, not the government. A good criminal defense lawyer will assist the client in deciding whether to take the case to trial. That being said, the final decision is that of the client.

Once the client decides to take the case to trial, he or she must then decide which type of trial to select. The client must choose between a jury trial or a bench trial. A jury trial is one in which 12 members of society come together to hear the evidence and decide whether the client is guilty or not guilty. A bench trial is one in which the judge sitting alone makes the determination as to guilty or not guilty. Just like with the decision to go to trial in the first place, the decision as to whether to select a bench or jury trial is that of the person accused.

There are many important factors that go into deciding whether to elect a jury trial or a bench trial. The single most important factor is the judge who would hear the bench trial. A good criminal defense lawyer will have knowledge of the judge sitting in that particular courtroom. Judges are human beings and as such they are all different. Some judges are known to be pro-state and some to be pro-defense. If the client is fortunate enough to be in front of a judge who is known as being pro-defense, it will most likely be the best decision to elect a bench trial. If on the other hand, the judge is known as a pro-state judge, it is probably best to select a jury trial. That being said, when it comes to a jury trial, you never really know the 12 people that will decide the case. Although the lawyer and the client help in selecting the 12 individuals, you never really know these people and it is difficult to predict their behavior.

Another important factor in determining whether to select a jury or bench trial is the cost associated with the selection. Criminal defense lawyers will generally charge more in legal fees for a jury trial as compared to a bench trial. This is because a bench trial can typically be resolved in one court date. A jury trial will often go three days or more. With a bench trial, the rules of evidence are often more relaxed. With a jury trial, the proceedings are often more formal and there are many breaks for the jury. A jury has to be selected, the jury has to have lunch, the jury needs multiple breaks etc.

Another important consideration is the possible sentence if convicted. Although most judges will not admit it, a defendant will typically be sentenced more harshly after conviction at a jury trial than conviction after a bench trial. People within the system often refer to this as a “trial tax”. The underlying rationalization for a trial tax of this kind comes from the increased time spent on a jury trial as opposed to a bench trial. Judges feel that if a person spends a week at trial they should be punished more severely than someone spending merely an afternoon at trial. This is not fair but in many courts it is a reality of the system. The decision to select a jury trial should be taken very seriously.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. This attorney will help you decide whether to go to trial and whether to elect a bench or jury trial in your case.