Bench Trials and Jury Trials in Criminal Cases
In Oklahoma, there are several ways in which a criminal case can be resolved without ever going to trial. In many cases, the matter can be handled through the filing of motions or plea bargaining. However, if your attorney is unable to reach a favorable resolution for you through these means, then the case will be scheduled for trial.
There are two types of trials in our justice system: bench trials and jury trials.
What Is a Jury Trial?
As the name suggests, a jury trial is a trial in which a jury of your peers decides the verdict. In Oklahoma, you are entitled to a jury trial if you have been charged with a criminal offense. There are two types of jury trials:
- Trials for misdemeanor offenses consist of six-member juries
- Trials for felony offenses consist of 12-member juries
The process of a jury trial looks just like what you have seen in the movies and on TV:
- Both sides voir dire (question for bias) potential jurors
- The prosecution and the defense make opening arguments
- Witnesses are called to testify
- Witnesses are cross-examined
- Other evidence is presented
- The prosecution and the defense make closing arguments
- The jury adjourns to decide the verdict
In order for the jury’s verdict to be valid, it must be unanimous. If even one juror votes against the verdict, it could lead to a mistrial.
What Is a Bench Trial?
In a bench trial, the judge alone decides the verdict; there is no jury. The bench trial process is essentially the same as that of a jury trial.
In Oklahoma, both the prosecution and the defense must agree to a bench trial.
Which Trial Is Right for My Case?
The answer varies from case to case, as each type of trial has its advantages and disadvantages.
For example, jury trials usually take much more time to complete than bench trials. If you are looking for a speedy resolution to your case, a bench trial may be preferable.
However, judges can sometimes render decisions based on political pressure, especially if they will soon be up for reelection or review from the governor. Jurors, on the other hand, tend to make decisions based on emotion, even though they are instructed not to.
It is important that your attorney be familiar with the Judge you are appearing in front of as well as the general pulse for jury habits for the county or city in which your case is located.
Our attorneys will evaluate all the factors at play in your case to determine which type of trial is most likely to result in a favorable resolution. However, the decision to waive a jury trial is ultimately yours to make.