Criminal Trials are a structured process where facts of a case are presented in court to the judge and/or the jury. One of these entities will decide the verdict of the trial and let the defendant know whether he or she is guilty or not guilty of the charges against him or her.
It is important to note what kind of preparation you need to determine what type of trial best suits you and benefits your case. There are two different kinds of trial types you can choose from and they are called a bench trial and a jury trial. A bench trial or a jury trial means you can choose whom you want to judge and give the verdict in your case, the judge or the jury. Your choice of whom you will give the verdict to changes how the trial should be prepared for, as you may be able to sway the jury based on feelings and garner sympathy from the jury.
The Mechanics Of A Jury Trial
This type of trial is the kind of trial you see on TV show dramas, where there is a box of people who are to be present in court and listen to both the Plaintiff and the Defendants facts, accusations, defenses and closing arguments and they get to deliberate over the crime. They get to choose if the defendant is guilty of the crime he or she has been charged with. Although dramatized television shows make this part of the court trial more glamorous and seemingly more fast-paced than it is in real life. In reality, you never really know how long a jury case will take. It can take one, two, three days or a week or two weeks, and in some instances, a trial can go for a month. This all depends on what the Plaintiff’s attorney or Defendant’s attorney needs to present to the court and jury, such as each party might have a lot of exhibits, photos, etc.
In order for a jury trial to take place, it has to undergo a juror selection to determine what people are qualified to sit in on the trial. Each district court randomly selects jurors’ names from a list of registered voters and driver’s licenses who live within that district. The selection process helps to create a piece of the community representation regardless of race, gender, national origin, age or political affiliation.
Once the jury pool has been created, they are then questioned to determine if they will be suitable to serve on the jury. This questioning is to determine if they will be able to judge the case fairly without any pre existing prejudices. If they are not suitable for the case, they will be dismissed.
For criminal cases, the jury is usually made up of twelve people and alternates. The judge can permit there to be alternate jurors and they can choose to have one or more of them. Alternate jurors must be sworn in and seated near the jury at all times. They are given equal opportunity to see and hear all the proceedings and must attend the trial at all times. They are not allowed to discuss the case with anyone, including the other jurors unless the alternate replaces one of the jurors or is dismissed. Alternate jurors are used in case any juror dies, becomes incapacitated or is disqualified during the trial. A juror can easily replace them in the order the alternate jurors are chosen.
The judge at a jury trial will mostly be there to maintain the order of the court and provide guidance and instructions to the jury. The judge will be silent for the entire case unless it is to sustain or overrule an objection. Sustain means the judge agrees with the objection and does not allow the question, testimony or evidence to be heard. If the judge overrules the objection, then that means they will allow the question, testimony or evidence to be heard.
Once the case and all the evidence are presented and both parties end with their closing statements. The jury will go into something called deliberation; this is the process of deciding if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. No one associated with the trial can contact the jury without the judges and lawyers. If a jury has a question about the law, they must write a note to the judge, which the judge will read in court with all parties presented.
After a verdict has been reached, the jury will notify the judge, the lawyers and the defendant in open court.
The Workings of a Bench Trial
If you choose to waive your right to a jury trial, it is all up to you and your defense attorney’s strategy. The only person able to waive your right is you. Your defense attorney can advise you on the disadvantages and advantages of a trial by jury, but only you can choose to waive your right to a jury trial. One thing to note is a bench trial is not a constitutional right. You can waive your right to a jury trial, but the prosecutor or judge can reject the defendant’s waiver, and the trial will be pushed through a jury trial. Every case is different and as such, choosing which trial is best suited will be different from case to case.
This type of trial is laid out the same way as a jury trial, except there is no jury. The judge will be the one to listen to all the evidence presented and give the verdict at the end. The defendant’s attorney and prosecuting attorney will both start with their opening statements. This opening statement is the defendant and prosecutor’s own recount of what happened. These statements are more concise and less emotional as the judge is a fact finder and will not appeal to emotional opening statements. Sometimes the judge can order there to be no opening statements.
After the opening statement, the prosecutors will go first in presenting their evidence, then the defendant will cross-examine any evidence brought before them. Then the defense attorney will go next and present their evidence and testimonies, the prosecuting party will then have their chance to cross-examine the evidence. The judge, being well-versed in the law, will be vocal to make sure the trial is fair and just. They play the role of fact-finder and as such will take on the rule for procedural and evidentiary issues that may present themselves in the trial. They will make sure the evidence presented is evidence that was produced during the discovery part of the trial. Discovery is the showing of evidence that must be presented to the defendant or the defendant’s attorney in order for them to prepare the defense for their client. After the presentation of evidence, the trial will move on to the verdict. The judge can choose not to have closing arguments if they deem it unnecessary. The judge will deliberate on the evidence presented and announce the ruling of the trial. The judge can opt to withhold the decision until after it is published after the trial.
The Pros And Cons Of Jury vs. Bench Trial
The advantage of having a jury trial is they are made up of people within your districts and, as such, they are easier to sway with emotions. Although they are supposed to be impartial, it is hard for ordinary people not to be swayed in a trial; as a result a defense tactic which appeals to their feelings might work. Another advantage can be that if you lose your case in a jury trial, you have more grounds to appeal your case than in a bench trial. A good advantage of a trial by jury is there may be a chance of mistrial due to the jurors not being able to reach a unanimous verdict. A mistrial can be good because the trial ends and the prosecutor can try the defendant again, but a mistrial suggests they have a weak case and the charges will be dismissed. An advantage of jurors is they provide greater protection to the defendant, as the prosecutors will need to convince all jurors the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The disadvantage of a jury trial is jurors can be swayed too easily because of their emotions, although yes, this is a con, it can also play badly if the prosecuting party sways the jurors in their favor. Jurors can also be unpredictable, as the more complex a case gets, the more of a risk you run with jurors misunderstanding critical aspects of the case, like evidence, the burden of proof or even the judge’s instructions. A disadvantage of jury trials is they can be costly, as they can run for a long time. Some jury trials can last as little as a week or as long as a couple months; this can be money-consuming and hard for defendants to afford.
An advantage of a bench trial is that there is no jury, it can feel less intimidating. Also, bench trials tend to move a lot quicker than jury trials because there is no jury process for a bench trial. It is also possible to schedule the trial sooner and this can also make bench trials a lot more cost-effective than a jury trial. A judge is a more neutral party than a jury made up of regular people thus, they can stay impartial and can focus on information relevant to the case. Also, because judges are well-versed in the laws when dealing with complex cases that apply complex laws, a judge will have a better understanding than a group of jurors. This is an advantage when having to deal with science, numbers or expert witnesses who give testimonies that can be hard to keep up with or may even bore a juror into not fully paying attention.
The disadvantage of a bench trial is only the judge decides, whereas, in a jury trial, a prosecutor must convince all or the majority of jurors that you are guilty. This is a lot easier when a prosecutor must convince only the judge you are guilty. Another disadvantage is the judge knows all the evidence, even evidence, that was inadmissible during the discovery part of the trial. No matter how neutral they want to be, they can let disregarded evidence color their perspective a bit.
Need Help? Call Us Now!
Do not forget when you or anyone you know is facing a criminal charge, you have us, the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, by your side to help you build the best defense case for you. We will explain everything you need to know about which trial type suits your case best. Therefore, do not hesitate to call us if you find yourself or someone you know who is facing criminal charges unsure about the court system. We will work with you to give you the best type of defense that can help you solve your case. It is vital to have someone explain to you the result of the charge and guide you in the best possible way.
Here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we have professional and knowledgeable criminal law attorneys who are experienced in building a defense for you that suits your needs for the best possible outcome that will benefit you. Also, we offer free consultations at your convenience, you can choose Zoom, phone or in person and we will provide you with as much advice and information so you can have the best possible result in your case. Call us today at: 281- 810-9760.
Other Related Articles
- Is parental alienation a crime in Texas?
- Punishment Range for Crimes in Texas?
- Is Adultery a Crime in Texas?
- Criminal Homicide: And All it Entails
- The Criminal Process Guide
- What Is a White-Collar Crime in Texas?
- What to Look for in a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Texas
- Criminal Offense or Case Dismissal??
- How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney?
- Winning custody of your child with a criminal conviction