What’s the Difference Between Bench and Jury Criminal Trials in Florida?
Your life is turned upside down when you’ve been arrested on Florida criminal charges, to the point where you may not even think about the details involved with the process. One issue that may come up is whether your case will proceed through as a bench versus jury trial, terminology that refers to who will be deciding the verdict – i.e., whether the judge or members of the jury are acting as the finders of fact. The US Constitution and Florida law both guarantee your right to trial by jury, but not in every case.
The details are somewhat complicated, which is why retaining a Florida criminal defense attorney is essential when you’re facing charges. Still, you might find it helpful to check out an overview and pros/cons on bench versus jury trials.
Both Act as Finder of Fact: In a jury trial, members are charged with:
- Listening to testimony;
- Reviewing evidence and exhibits;
- Making a decision on what facts are credible and true; and finally,
- Determining whether the evidence proves that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a bench trial, the judge will take on all these tasks as finder of fact. Plus, he or she will still issue determine whether evidence is admissible, and will make rulings on objections presented by the prosecutor and defense counsel.
Factors That Affect How Your Case Proceeds: Under Florida law, the right to a trial by jury only exists in certain designated cases. The matter must involve a violation of:
- State law;
- A municipal or county ordinance; or,
- A federal statute, in a case that is proceeding in state court.
The second factor that affects your right to a jury trial is the potential punishment for a conviction. If you face prison time, you can request that your case be decided by a jury.
Pros and Cons of Bench Versus Jury Trials: When you do have the option to request a trial by jury, there are a few considerations to note:
- A bench trial will typically move faster because it doesn’t require jury selection and instructions. There’s also a theory that judges, with their background, are more likely to properly apply the law to the facts.
- In a jury trial, the prosecutor must convince all members that you’re guilty – which can be tougher as compared to persuading just one judge. You could “win” your case through a mistrial if the prosecution can’t get agreement from jurors, which could pave the way for a dismissal of the charges.
Talk to a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Options
From the foregoing, you can see that – when you do have the option – there are some complicated decisions to make regarding bench and jury trials. Plus, it’s best to make your choice as early on in the criminal process as possible. An experienced attorney can review your circumstances, apply the pros and cons, and advise you on the best way to proceed. For more information on the proceedings, please contact Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Kevin J. Kulik to schedule a confidential consultation at our office.