Who Should Make the Call? Judge v. Jury Trial

One of the most important decisions a Western Tidewater criminal defendant will make regarding his case is who makes the call – a judge or jury. There are, of course, as anything else in life advantages and disadvantages for both. There are some factors that a criminal defendant should consider in making this crucial choice.

If a criminal case does not depend on the facts themselves, but rather is based on how those facts should be applied to the law, then in most circumstances a judge trial would likely be in your best interests. While jurors are instructed at trials not to allow their passions to control their decisions, often times their emotion and lack of legal knowledge (outside of the TV world) causes them to react based on common sense, as opposed to legal principle. On the other hand, a trial judge hears numerous cases every day and typically is trained not to allow his or her passion to overcome their legal thinking. While judges are still human, they are more apt to look at the law as applied to the facts, whereas a jury will often make the facts suit the law as they see it. Where there is not much dispute as to facts, one should strongly consider a bench trial.

By contrast, a case involving extremely contradictory positions of evidence and witnesses such that you may be viewed favorably by regular people should be tried by a jury in most instances. Juries want to right wrongs, be involved in the process, and bring justice to the world. If they sense that a wrong has been committed factually, they will in most cases try to make it right. So if your case involves “victims” whose testimony does not add up to real world experience, then a jury may be best for you.

Perhaps the most important consideration is the impact that this decision will have on sentencing. In a judge trial, the trial judge determines the sentence. Prior to sentencing, the judge will consider a pre-sentence report and applicable sentencing guidelines. Typically, a sentence within the guideline range can be expected, unless there is some aggravating or mitigating circumstance that should cause the court to go above or below the guidelines. A judge can also suspend a portion of the sentence that is imposed on a defendant.

A jury does not get to consider a pre-sentence report or guidelines. They are simply provided the statutory range of punishments. The benefit of a jury is that regular people do not typically sit in judgment of others and, therefore, find it difficult to send defendants to prison for extensive periods of time, with the exception of some extreme cases (murder, rape, robbery, etc.). Unfortunately, a jury cannot suspend any of the time that is given. The trial judge officiating a jury has the authority to reduce the sentence given, but typically the judge will affirm the decision of the jury.

As you can see, the decision of whether to have your case tried before a judge or jury is extremely important. This is a decision that you should consider with the help of experienced counsel. If you have found yourself in need of a Western Tidewater criminal defense attorney, call the experienced attorneys of Randall Page, P.C. Let us protect your rights!

Andrew R. Page, Partner