Choosing whether to proceed with a bench trial or a jury trial after being charged with a crime can be difficult.

Each has its pros and cons. But when you’re facing criminal charges in West Chester, Phoenixville, Exton, Wayne, or anywhere in Chester County, you don’t have time to waste deciding.

Bench Trial vs. Jury Trial

When you have been arrested and charged in criminal court, you have the right to decide whether you want to face a bench trial or a jury trial. Let’s first define the two options.

Jury Trial

You most commonly hear of defendants requesting jury trials. These are heard by a panel of between six and twelve people. The jury is responsible for all the following

  • Hearing the state and the defendant’s legal arguments
  • Reviewing the evidence presented
  • Determining whether you are guilty or not guilty

Bench Trial

A bench trial is much different. Here, the judge will be solely responsible for the following:

  • Hearing both parties’ arguments
  • Reviewing the evidence
  • Making procedural calls
  • Determining whether you are guilty or innocent

But which type of trial is the right one for your case? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Learn more before you make a decision that could impact the rest of your life.

Advantages of Bench Trials

There are many advantages to bench trials; however, you should examine these benefits to make sure they align with your unique case.

Quick Resolution

Bench trials are often resolved quicker than jury trials. This is partly because you don’t need to select a jury or explain the court’s rules to the jury. This makes it much easier to schedule a trial sooner.

Judges Are Less Emotional

Bench trials can also be a good option for defendants when damaging or irrelevant information comes up during the trial. No matter how irrelevant the information is, it could still change the jury’s opinion of you. As a result, they can have more compassion toward the victim.

A judge can dismiss information irrelevant to the case, whereas a jury might not be as impartial.

Judges Know the Law

If a technicality or particularly complex legal rule becomes important in your case, a bench trial may be a better choice for you. Judges understand the law more than juries. And you want the decision in your trial to be based on legal rules and facts, not emotions.

Advantages of Jury Trials

Jury trials are overseen by a group of people called a jury. There are several benefits of jury trials as opposed to bench trials.

Several Opinions

To start, more people have a say in whether you are found guilty or not guilty. All you need is one juror to be unwilling to convict you for your case to lead to a mistrial. The state may elect to dismiss the charges or offer a plea agreement in cases like these.

Juries Are More Sympathetic

Jury trials can also be a good option for those who have been overcharged with crimes. If the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, the jury may find you to be a sympathetic defendant. Furthermore, if the prosecutor comes off as a bully, this could make the jury even more likely to support you.

These are just a couple of advantages jury trials bring. Your criminal defense lawyer can help you figure out which option is the better one for your case.

Trial Process in West Chester, Pennsylvania

Bench trials and jury trials are similar in many ways. The state’s prosecutor will call witnesses in to testify and present evidence in their case against you. To obtain a guilty verdict, they must prove to the judge or jury that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and question evidence introduced against you. Then, your criminal defense lawyer can call witnesses.

You can also testify on your behalf and present your evidence to support your plea. From there, the judge or the jury will return to review the evidence and deliberate to determine whether you should be found guilty or acquitted.

Get Help from a Criminal Defense Lawyer in West Chester

Now that you have a better idea of what bench trials and jury trials are and the advantages of both, you can make an informed decision on which type you want.

When you’ve been charged in Kennett Square, Oxford, Coatesville, or any other cities surrounding West Chester, Skinner Law Firm could help you with your criminal defense strategy.

Contact our office by phone at 610-436-1410. Or fill out our quick contact form to schedule your free consultation as soon as today.

Article Author

Michael J. Skinner, the founder of Skinner Law Firm LLC, is a former prosecutor with the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

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