Burden of Proof
If someone were to ask you to describe what a criminal trial looks like, what would you say?
If you’re like most people, you’d probably picture a courtroom with a judge and twelve jurors. More often than not, this image would be accurate. However, in some trials, the jury may be absent, with only a judge left to determine the outcome—this is what is known as a bench trial.
Under the sixth amendment of the United States Constitution, every citizen is entitled to a trial by jury if he or she is accused of a crime. This protection applies to any type of criminal case, regardless of the severity of the offense.
Although jury trials are the standard in most criminal cases, in some situations, the accused may receive a bench trial instead. These types of trials are typically reserved for traffic cases, civil disputes, and certain juvenile offenses.
Oftentimes, the accused will be given the option to have his or her case heard by a jury or to receive a bench trial. A formal written request must be submitted to the court in order for a bench trial to be granted. After reviewing the case, the court will then determine whether such a trial is appropriate. If, for example, they believe a bench trial will create an advantage for the accused, the request will be denied, and a jury trial will be scheduled.
The same legal requirements apply for both bench and jury trials. If the court grants the defendant’s request for a bench trial, the prosecution must prove he or she is guilty of the offense in question beyond a reasonable doubt. The final verdict, however, is left entirely up to the judge.
So which is better: a trial by jury or a bench trial? Since both have negative and positive traits, the answer varies from case to case. Jury trials, for instance, are often more advantageous for defendants, as the verdict is decided by twelve individuals, rather than just one. On the other hand, a bench trial can be useful in cases that involve complex legal issues that a jury may not understand.
If you have been accused of a crime, it is important to select the best type of trial for your situation. A bench trial may be beneficial if you are considering a plea bargain or simply want to avoid a time-consuming trial by jury.
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