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When is a bench trial better than a trial by jury?

If you stand accused of a crime, you have the right to a trial by a jury of your peers -- but is that always a good thing? Are there times when it makes more sense to take your chances with the judge rather than with a jury?

Under normal circumstances, a bench isn't the best route to take. However, the same things that make a trial by jury beneficial for defendants in most cases can work against them in others.

We're talking about two things: emotions and public sentiment.

In theory, juries are always supposed to follow the law, but juries are made up of ordinary people who are subject to ordinary emotions. If the public sentiment or emotional aspects of a trial favor the defendant, one or two members of a jury may be swayed accordingly.

For example, a woman who kills her husband after decades of brutal physical abuse or a man who kills his daughter's rapist after catching him in the act may be sympathetic figures to a jury. If just one member of the jury can see himself or herself acting the same way, that could translate to an acquittal.

On the other hand, when public sentiment and emotions are heavily slanted against the defendant, a bench trial may be the wiser choice. Judges are also human, but they are more conscious of their duty to uphold the law despite their own personal sentiments.

For example, a former police officer recently opted for a bench trial. The former officer, who is white, is charged with the murder of a black suspect during a chase. There have been increasing racial tensions in some parts of the country and anti-police sentiment is also high.

Choosing to forgo the right to a jury trial is a big decision to make. Talk to a criminal defense attorney today about your case.

Source: FindLaw, "Judge versus Jury Trials," accessed Aug. 03, 2017

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