If you have been charged with criminal wrongdoing, you may have been granted the opportunity to take a plea deal. Sometimes, taking a plea deal can be extremely beneficial for criminal defendants, especially those who understand that they could face far harsher penalties if convicted at trial. However, taking a plea deal is not the best option for all criminal defendants.
Perhaps you know that you are innocent and therefore you insist upon taking your case to trial in the hopes of winning your case. Or perhaps the plea deal being offered to you is not fair. Or perhaps your attorney has advised you that due to some technical or administrative issue, you may benefit from taking your chances at trial. Whatever your reasoning for going to trial may be, you have an important decision to make. Should you have your case heard before a jury of your peers or should you opt to waive your right to a jury trial and instead have your case heard by a judge in a bench trial setting?
Every case is unique. Therefore, it will likely benefit you to speak with your attorney before making a decision if you have been given the option to choose a jury trial or a bench trial. Your attorney knows the particulars of your case and will be able to advise you based on your unique circumstances.
However, it is important to think carefully before making your decision informed by your attorney’s guidance. A judge may be better able to grasp any potential technical issues that your case may turn on. A judge may also be more objective than a pool of your peers. However, a jury may be more sympathetic to non-technical issues that inform your case specifically. Ultimately, there are pros and cons to both forums.
Source: Findlaw Blotter, “Bench Trial or Jury Trial: What's the Difference?” Christopher Coble, June 18, 2015