Waiver of Right to Trial by Jury in California
In California criminal cases, you can waive your right to a jury trial. The big question is, whether it’s a good idea or not. A jury trial has its benefits, but sometimes a bench trial where a judge decides the verdict is a better option for you.
Knowing when to go with a jury trial and when a bench trial might be better for you is challenging on your own. This is where having a California criminal defense attorney is a great benefit. Your attorney will guide you in making informed decisions that are best for your case.
Not all criminal cases are eligible for a jury trial in California. If the charges against you carry less than six months in prison, you might not be eligible for a jury trial.
Let’s evaluate some reasons why you might consider waiving your right to a jury trial.
Reasons to consider waiving your right to a jury trial
You’ve heard about your right to a jury in case you face criminal charges. That can make it tempting to always go with a jury no matter the charges against you.
However, just because a jury trial is your right does not mean it’s always what’s best. Here are some situations where you might consider waiving your right to a jury trial.
- You’re being charged with a violent crime or a crime against public policy. In this case, jurors might not look at your case with kindness and a judge is better able to be impartial.
- You’ve been assigned a judge who has a history of providing lenient decisions. Judge assignment can really sway and impact a case. But you’ll need an attorney who knows the local judges well to make this decision.
- Your case has made the national spotlight and a jury trial will make it more public. Additionally, cases that make the national spotlight are also challenging for your attorney to find an impartial jury to cover.
- You have an existing criminal record that could sway a jury. Sadly, jurors do judge a book by its cover. A previous criminal history could impact the way a jury sees you, regardless of the evidence against you.
- You would like a speedy and inexpensive resolution to your case. A bench trial generally moves quicker. The less time you spend in court, the less expensive the case is likely to be.
One final reason you might consider avoiding a jury trial is if you plan to plead guilty or no contest. This happens if you’re working to accept a plea bargain from the prosecution. If you’re choosing to take this step in your case, the courts will move your case into the sentencing phase.
When choosing to waive your right to a jury trial, you should do so both voluntarily and intelligently. This means that you must be of sound mind and not be coerced into waiving this right.
What do I need to know about waiving my right to a jury trial?
Regardless of whether your case is in state or federal court, remember that you must waive your right to a jury trial voluntarily and intelligently. This means that the courts have a responsibility to explain the difference between a jury trial and a bench trial. These differences include:
- The jury trial consists of 12 jurors unanimously rendering a verdict. A judge decides solely about the verdict in a bench trial.
- During a jury trial, you and your attorney will have the opportunity to select the jury or show juror bias to avoid having them on the jury. Bench trials have no selection process as a judge will be assigned to you.
Before making any decisions about plea deals or waiving your right to a jury, you should seek counsel from a California criminal defense attorney. Contact our office immediately if you’re facing criminal charges.