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Jury Or Bench? Right to a Trial in New York State

While the overwhelming majority of criminal cases are resolved without the need for a trial, there are certain cases and situations where somebody charged with a crime will find their best alternative is to exercise their right to a trial. Individuals charged with a crime enjoy the right to a fair and impartial trial to determine their guilt or innocence under both the U.S. and New York State Constitutions. Regardless of the level of crime a person is charged with, the prosecutor always has the burden to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

In New York, an individual charged with a misdemeanor is legally entitled to a jury of six citizens to hear all of the evidence and determine whether or not the prosecution has met their high burden before they can be convicted of the offense. Those charged with a felony offense are entitled to a jury of 12 citizens. No matter what the charges are, the prosecutor can only win a conviction if the jury is unanimous as to the defendant’s guilt. That is, every juror must vote guilty in order for a conviction to be obtained.

right to a trial new york

The right to a Trial by Jury

The right to a trial by jury is central to our criminal justice system, but it is a right that a person can waive. If, after consulting with their attorney, a defendant believes that it is in their best interest to have a judge hear the evidence and determine their guilt, they may elect for a bench trial. With a bench trial, or trial by judge, the judge hearing the case not only presides over legal and evidentiary issues, but also sits as the finder of fact and determines whether the defendant is guilty or not. In some cases, a defendant may only have the right to a bench trial and not a jury trial. For example, those charged with violation level offenses in New York have only a right to a bench trial. A defendant waiving their right to a jury trial and electing to “go bench,” must waive this right in open court and only after the judge has determined that the defendant is doing so knowingly and of their own free will. Bench trials are generally more abbreviated than jury trials in that there is no need to pick a jury and the court can decide whether or not they wish the prosecutor to make an opening statement.

So what factors might lead someone charged with a crime to elect to go bench, rather than to have a jury hear the evidence and determine their guilt? For cases involving highly emotional or sensitive issues (such as a crime that is alleged to have been committed against a child or sexual offenses) it may be more advantageous to have an experienced judge who routinely deals with such cases be the trier of fact, as opposed to citizens who may have never had to deal with such subject matter. Furthermore, if the defense strategy is based more on technical defenses, a defendant may be more comfortable with a judge who is more familiar with the law hear the evidence and render a decision. Other cases where the defense is not necessarily claiming complete innocence, but rather is seeking a conviction of a lesser offense may be better suited with a bench trial.

Hire an Experienced Lawyer

If you, or somebody you know, are facing the decision of whether or not to take their case to trial, it is imperative that they have the services of an experienced trial attorney to ensure they get the fairest trial possible. The experienced trial attorneys at Team Green Lawyers have handled trials in nearly every type of criminal charge on the books. They know how to prepare a strong defense and what strategy will best suit their clients’ needs. Let Team Green Lawyers give you your best opportunity at prevailing at trial.