A jury trial is a right in every state in the United States. Jury trials allow ordinary people from local communities to participate in the judicial process. The judge and the attorneys may be running the show, but a jury of your peers will have the final say on your fate. The right to a jury is practically sacred in the American judicial system, but they are not mandatory and you do not have to have one.
You can opt out of a jury trial in favor of a bench trial with the judge acting as the jury. Whether or not this is a good idea will depend on your situation. Sometimes, it is actually preferable to have a bench trial rather than a jury trial, depending on the subject matter of your case.
If you are charged with a criminal offense and considering your trial options, contact our New Hersey criminal defense lawyers for assistance. We can discuss your case and determine if a jury trial is in your best interest. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 to schedule a free legal consultation regarding your case.
When Are Juries Required for Criminal Cases in New Jersey?
Juries are not required in a criminal trial. While juries are very standard and commonly used in many criminal cases, defendants can opt for a bench trial is they wish. Foregoing a jury is a bit more complicated than it may seem because you are not just making a request to the court. Instead, you are waiving a fundamental right.
When waiving your right to a jury trial, both the judge and the prosecutor may have a few issues. Judges are not inclined to allow people to waive their rights without a good reason. The judge will likely ask you a lot of questions about your decision to waive your right to a jury because they want to make sure you know what you are doing. This is called a “colloquy.” Moreover, the prosecutor may argue against your choice because they think a jury is more likely to convict than a judge.
There are many different factors to consider when deciding to waive your right to a jury. The nature of your charges and the strength of your case are only two variables among many that should be analyzed. You should discuss your options with a qualified attorney who can advise you on the best decision to make. Contact our New Jersey criminal defense attorneys to get guidance on this subject.
The Right to Trial by a Jury of Your Peers in New Jersey
This right is not just important, it is fundamental. The right to a jury is part of the very foundation of the American legal system and judicial process. In New Jersey, you always have the right to a jury trial if you are charged with a crime. However, keep in mind that lesser offenses, like disorderly persons offenses, do not involve juries.
Having jury trials is essential for many reasons. First, jury trials keep the criminal justice system more transparent. Not only are trials open to the public, but the public is directly involved in the outcome. Jurors are regular people from local towns, cities, and communities. A defendant’s fate is not in the hands of legal authorities but rather their neighbors and community members. Having jurors also allows everyday people to have a say in the judicial process. Jury verdicts can help to shape the law and the legal process and gives the public some influence over the judiciary.
As crucial as juries are, you can waive your right to a jury if you need to. However, this right is so essential that you should consult with a trained lawyer before making any decision. Our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers can help you weigh the pros and cons of having a jury.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Having a Jury on a Criminal Case in New Jersey
Having a jury is often very beneficial as it prevents defendants from being bulldozed by courts and prosecutors. However, juries are not always an asset and can even be a detriment in some cases. Below are the pros and cons of having a jury that should be considered before you invoke or waive this right.
Benefits of Juries
One of the many reasons we have jury trials is to check the power and authority of the judiciary. Juries provide a greater level of transparency and prevent the government from arbitrarily locking people up. If there were no juries at all, the fate of all criminal defendants would lie with a system that is admittedly flawed and sometimes biased.
Juries also inject some much-needed common sense into criminal trials. If it were up to lawyers, whichever side introduces the most evidence would win the case. While evidence is important, it is not always reliable. Evidence often points to legal truths rather than factual ones. Juries are free to accept or disregard evidence as they see fit, using their personal life experiences as a guide.
Downsides and Risks of Having a Jury
Juries are not always good for defendants, depending on the subject matter of the case. While juries do use more common sense when approaching a case, they are also prone to thinking emotionally rather than logically. When a case’s subject matter is particularly grisly or inflammatory, like a murder trial, jurors may have a more emotional reaction. These kinds of reactions might make jurors more inclined to find a defendant guilty.
A significant risk with juries is that they are not always trustworthy. Juries are comprised of people from your community and are not necessarily legally trained. These people sometimes have hidden biases that make them want to convict rather than analyze the evidence and reach a reasoned decision. People may look down on a defendant because of their race, ethnicity, education, gender, or sexual orientation.
Sometimes, crimes involve technical or scientific knowledge that might be tough to explain to a jury of non-experts. Judges sometimes bring to the table a base understanding or experience with scientific issues, legal technicalities, or financial issues that make it easier to convince them that what you did was not illegal.
If you are thinking about waiving your right to a jury trial, you should think long and hard before making a final decision. Our New Jersey criminal defense attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons so you can make a more thoughtful choice.
Alternatives to Jury Trials for Criminal Cases in New Jersey
In the event that you decide to waive your right to a jury trial, your other option is a bench trial. Bench trials are when a judge takes on the role of the jury. So, the judge will not only act as the head of the courtroom, they will also make the final decision regarding a defendant’s guilt. This may work in a defendant’s favor if the subject matter of the case is emotionally charged. Judges have extensive legal training and experience, and they are more likely to approach the case logically rather than emotionally.
Judges are also trained to be impartial decision-makers, meaning they are less likely to be affected by hidden biases. However, judges can sometimes be a little too logical and mechanical in their decision-making. They can sometimes forget to use common sense when making decisions. Contact our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers to talk about a bench trial for your case.
Call Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys to Talk About Your Case
If you have been charged with a crime in New Jersey, you are entitled to a trial by jury, but you do not have to take that option. Our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers will help you make an informed decision about approaching your case. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 to schedule a free legal consultation.