Should I Waive My Right to a Jury Trial?

In criminal prosecutions, it is the defendant’s choice whether he or she wishes to waive the right to a jury trial.  This is a right constitutionally protected in both state and federal courts during criminal prosecutions.  If a criminal defendant waives the right to a trial by jury, the trial will be conducted by a judge alone- this is called a bench trial.  As a matter of strategy, there may be several reasons why a defendant would wish to have a case heard by a jury instead of by the bench, or vice versa.

There are several reasons a criminal defendant would want to waive their right to a jury trial.  For instance, if the crime the defendant is accused of is particularly heinous and a reasonable jury might be predisposed to prejudice the client, a bench trial could result in a fairer verdict.  Additionally, if the legal issues involved are so complicated that a jury could confuse them to the point of prejudicing the defendant, a jury trial might also not be in the defendant’s best interest.  In such an event, the judge is in a better position to make determinations.

To waive a right to a jury trial, the defendant must consent in writing.  The defendant also must be aware of and understand the implications concerning his agreement to waive the jury trial.  In other words, a defendant’s waiver of a jury trial must be voluntary, knowing and intelligent.  In addition, the prosecutor must consent to the waiver, and the court must approve.

If a defendant wishes to withdraw a waiver of a jury trial, it may be done at any time right before trial.  However, it is up to the court whether to deny the request depending on whether the withdrawal delays proceedings, or inconveniences other participants in the trial.

If you have been charged with a crime and have questions concerning whether you should waive your right to a jury trial, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can best advise you regarding your legal rights and your best course of action.  Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.

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