Persons charged with a crime have the right to a public trial with a jury of their peers. In a criminal defense case, you usually see a jury rendering the verdict. However, it is possible to have a bench trial.
There are significant differences between a bench and jury trial, and knowing these are important when dealing with serious charges.
A jury trial
If your case goes to a jury trial, 12 individuals select your fate. The court chooses these individuals using parameters from the prosecution and defense before the trial begins and listens to the arguments and evidence presented during the trial. A judge makes decisions on how the trial proceeds and evidentiary matters.
After both sides present their arguments, the jury has the task of deliberating your guilt or innocence. The law requires a unanimous verdict in favor of conviction or a finding of not guilty, and it may take several votes and days of deliberating before presenting the findings to the court.
A bench trial
Instead of having a jury present during the trial to hear arguments and evidence, a judge presides over the trial. He or she holds the power to make the decision on your innocence or guilt. Evidence and testimony are key elements in supporting each argument like a jury trial, but the judge serves as the jury in sifting through all the facts.
Bench and jury trials follow the same procedures and rules, and a judge presides over each trial. However, a key difference between these types of proceedings deals with who has the final say in convicting a defendant.