Non Jury Trials
The right to a trial by jury is one of the fundamental rights afforded to the people of this country under our Constitution. The right to that trial cannot be taken away and is often the biggest piece of leverage that a criminal defendant has to fight against the accusations of the State Attorney. However, other options exist outside of a trial by jury that criminal defendants are often unaware of. One of the options to challenge a criminal case without the associated risks of a jury trial is what is known as a non-jury or bench trial. If you are facing criminal charges and need an experienced lawyer to try your case, you should contact a dedicated St. Petersburg criminal trial lawyer immediately.
A non-jury trial is a criminal trial in which the judge acts as the jury. In a typical jury trial, the judge is there to make ruling on legal issues such as the admissibility of certain evidence and whether certain motions should be granted or denied. It is left to the jury to listen to the evidence presented and decide whether or not the defendant is guilty. In a non-jury trial, the judge takes on both roles and acts as the tryer of both the facts and law. There are pros and cons to both jury and non-jury trials, and you should consult with your lawyer to determine which approach is best for you.Pros of the Non-Jury Trial
Electing to proceed with a non-jury trial has several potential benefits. A bench trial, by its nature, saves you significant time and resources. A jury trial for a particular case might take days or weeks to try due to the court procedures and juror schedules. The same trial, conducted before a judge, might take a matter of hours or even minutes. A non-jury trial is typically a far less formal hearing and the necessity for opening statements, closing arguments, and trial dramatics are reduced. Your lawyer will also be able to make a determination about whether a particular judge is likely to find you guilty or not guilty. Some judges tend to be more defense oriented, while other side with the prosecution. Guessing what a jury might do is often much more difficult.
A significant benefit of a non-jury trial may also be a guarantee of no jail time. When you are charged with even a minor second-degree misdemeanor, you can still be sentenced to up to 60 days in jail. Under Florida Statute 918.0157, if you are facing a misdemeanor punishable by six months or less, you can request a non-jury trial and a certification of no jail and no conviction. This means that you can have your day in court, go to trial on your case and plea not guilty, and even if the judge finds you guilty, they cannot sentence you to jail or convict you. This process is a boon for those who’s fear of jail might make them shy away from trial. Speak to a dedicated St. Petersburg Criminal trial lawyer to see what approach is right for you.Cons of the Non-Jury Trial
Not everything in the criminal justice system is perfect. Non-jury trials are not always the answer and are certainly not always the best choice. Judges are often much more jaded than the typical juror and are more likely to believe the testimony of detectives and police officers who they interact with every day. A jury trial is still a powerful tool and an essential right. A jury is often unpredictable and the prospect of a jury trial still sparks fear in the hearts of prosecutors even when they might have an air tight case.Speak to an Experienced Criminal Trial Lawyer Today
The St. Petersburg criminal trial lawyers at Hanlon Law have years of non-jury and jury trial experience. If you do not want to enter a guilty plea, and instead want to fight your case, call us today at 727.897.5413.