Trials heard by judges and those heard by juries can have vastly different outcomes. To make the best decision for your case, it’s important to learn the differences between bench trials and jury trials in New Jersey.
The main difference between bench and jury trials is who decides the case, either a judge or a jury. This difference creates additional variations in trial length and outcome. If you choose to have a jury trial, that doesn’t mean a judge won’t be involved. In fact, New Jersey judges are still heavily involved in jury trials. While there are pros and cons to both bench trials and jury trials, it generally benefits criminal defendants to have a trial by jury. Regardless, your attorney will help you make an informed decision that’s best for you.
If you’re facing criminal charges in New Jersey, our lawyers are here to help. For a free case evaluation with the New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, call today at (609) 616-4956.
How Do Criminal Bench Trials and Jury Trials Differ in New Jersey?
Although bench trials and jury trials follow the same general rules and procedures, the two have differences. The main difference that comes to mind when discussing jury and bench trials is who decides the case. That key difference can inform how your New Jersey criminal trial will take shape.
In a New Jersey bench trial, a judge is the only person who hears and decides a case. Jury trials generally involve twelve jurors who hear and decide a case. Because of this, bench trials tend to be faster than jury trials. When New Jersey criminal defendants opt for a bench trial, they forgo the jury selection process entirely. Jury instruction and deliberation generally take a long time as well, so bench trials are typically much quicker in New Jersey.
In addition to quickness, another difference between bench and jury trials is legal comprehension. More often than not, a New Jersey judge will have a better understanding of the law than jurors will. Judges tend to be less emotional than juries, as they base their decisions throughout a trial on existing law. Clearly, an emotional jury with little understanding of New Jersey criminal law can greatly impact the outcome of a case.
Of course, the decision-makers are the main difference between jury and bench trials. The prospect of just one individual deciding your fate versus multiple individuals working through the facts of the case together can be daunting. It’s important to understand that jury trials are not available to those facing charges for lesser offenses in New Jersey, like disorderly persons offenses.
What Does a New Jersey Judge Do During a Jury Trial?
If you choose to have a trial heard by a jury of your peers, that doesn’t mean a judge won’t be present. Judges are still involved in jury trials, just to a lesser degree than in bench trials.
Learning that a New Jersey judge will still be present during a jury trial is crucial for criminal defendants to understand. Judges still make vital decisions during jury trials, which can ultimately affect the outcome of your case. For example, a judge can decide whether or not certain motions that may positively or negatively impact your case will be passed. Judges can decide whether or not to allow the jury to consider certain statements or information during the deliberation process. New Jersey judges also decide whether or not to grant a mistrial when jurors cannot agree and what sentence a convicted criminal defendant will receive.
All of this is to say that even if you choose a jury trial, you will still have to interact with a judge during the course of your criminal trial. It’s important to understand that any decisions New Jersey judges make during the course of a trial are based on law. A judge must be impartial so that they can make unbiased decisions while presiding over your criminal trial. Your Ocean City criminal defense attorney can prepare you for how to speak to and interact with a judge so that you do not negatively impact your case.
Should You Have a Bench Trial or a Jury Trial in New Jersey?
The decision to have a bench or jury trial is a serious choice for New Jersey criminal defendants to make. While it may ultimately be your decision depending on the charges against you, your Sea Isle City criminal defense attorney will help you make the right one for your case.
Not all defendants get to choose between having a bench trial or jury trial. Those charged with lesser offenses, like disorderly persons offenses and certain misdemeanors, don’t get to have a trial by jury in New Jersey.
Whether or not it benefits you to have a trial by jury depends on your case’s facts. While appealing to jurors’ emotions can benefit criminal defendants, it can also negatively impact them depending on the subject matter. If your case involves complex testimony from experts, jurors may have difficulty understanding their testimony and comprehending its significance. Jurors may have biases that can inform their opinions of you, either positively or negatively.
There are benefits to choosing a bench trial. Judges are generally less emotional than jurors. If the charges against you are serious, the prosecution may hope you choose a jury trial to tug at jurors’ heartstrings. A New Jersey judge is more likely to listen to the facts and the facts alone. However, a total lack of emotion when deciding a case is rarely good for New Jersey criminal defendants. And although judges are trained to be impartial, they are still human beings with potential biases. One person deciding your future may be less appealing than a group of people working together to come to a decision.
Generally, jury trials are better for criminal defendants. However, it’s your right to decide. Your South Jersey criminal defense attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons of choosing a bench or jury trial so that you feel confident entering your trial.
Call Our Attorneys if You’re Facing a Criminal Trial in New Jersey
Making the right decision about whether to have a bench trial or jury trial is crucial for New Jersey criminal defendants. For a free case evaluation with the Wildwood criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, call today at (609) 616-4956.