Anyone facing a criminal charge that may lead to incarceration has the right to request a jury trial. Having your criminal case heard by a jury made up of your peers is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitutional and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
When your future and freedom are on the line, is requesting a jury trial the wisest decision? Like most criminal law matters, the best option depends on a range of details surrounding your case. Read on to learn when it may be advantageous to request a jury trial in Pennsylvania.
What Are the Advantages of a Jury Trial in Pennsylvania?
The underlying principle of a jury trial is that it allows your case to be decided by individuals in your community rather than a judge. Additionally, it requires that a unanimous group collectively decides a verdict instead of a single person. In many instances, asserting the right to a jury trial is in a defendant’s best interests as it offers a range of advantages, including:
1. The Opportunity to Select Jurors
A process known as voir dire, Latin for “to speak the truth,” enables both attorneys to select jurors to decide your case. Your lawyer will look for people who are unbiased and competent. Both sides are allowed several opportunities to strike specific jurors for any or no explanation. The defense and prosecution are allowed additional strikes to prospective jury members based on their question responses.
2. The Prerequisite for a Unanimous Verdict
If you have a jury trial, all eight or twelve jurors must come to the same conclusion that you are guilty of the crime of which you are accused. One person who feels differently from the rest can make all the difference and force the judge to declare a mistrial. On the other hand, if you opt for a bench trial, then the decision of whether the prosecution has met its burden of proof to find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt rests with just one individual.
3. Specific Grounds Available to Appeal a Jury’s Decision
From challenges with the jury instructions to questionable matters during voir dire, when you invoke your right to a jury trial, you are provided with several opportunities to file an appeal that you would not have had with a bench trial. However, keep in mind that there are also grounds to appeal bench trials to challenge a judge’s decisions.
When Should I Consider a Bench Trial in Pennsylvania?
If you choose to waive your right to a jury trial, you’ll be given a bench trial ruled by a judge. Depending on your case, there are instances when it’s more advisable to opt for a bench trial over a trial by jury. Some examples when a bench trial may be favorable over a jury trial in Pennsylvania include:
1. Your Case Involves Complicated Legal Matters
If your case involves legal matters or details that are exceedingly complex, then counting on a jury of non-experts to arrive at a reasonable conclusion could be dicey. On the other hand, a judge who has a thorough understanding of the applicable laws to implement them appropriately to the current circumstances could be advantageous.
2. The Details of Your Case Pose a Risk for Biased Opinions
In every case, there is a risk that individual members of the jury will automatically believe you to be guilty merely because you were arrested. However, certain types of cases are more prone to preconceived notions and biased opinions. Criminal charges that present an increased risk for the jury being susceptible to declaring a guilty verdict often involve sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, and gang involvement.
3. A Bench Trial May Provide a Swift and Less Costly Resolution
Finally, a bench trial may be more advantageous if you’re looking for a faster decision than a jury trial. Overall, eliminating voir dire with other distinct qualities of a jury trial can lower the involved court costs. It’s important to note that a less costly resolution should not be the dominating factor that influences your decision to choose either a jury or bench trial. However, in certain situations, this is worth some consideration.
Retain an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in Montgomery County, PA
If you’re accused of committing a crime in Pennsylvania, do not delay speaking with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to learn whether a jury trial will benefit your case. It is essential to begin building a powerful defense strategy as soon as possible to put you on a path to freedom. Don’t delay getting the legal help you need; get in touch with a skilled criminal defense attorney from Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
With over 65 years of experience, our talented team of attorneys has earned our clients’ trust across Southeastern Pennsylvania. Our commitment to achieving the most favorable results has earned multiple honors, including a Tier 1 ranking in the 2021 Edition of “Best Law Firms” by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers©. To speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer over a free case review, complete our contact form or call 215-822-7575 today.