It’s probably fair to say that most people get their information about the criminal justice system from television and movies. While much of it is accurate, the process usually looks a lot different in reality. When you’re charged with a crime, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and afraid. What will happen to you? What rights do you have? Do you need to participate in a jury trial, or is it better to opt for a bench trial?
These are all questions that Dallas Criminal Defense Attorney Mick Mickelsen can help you answer. While you definitely have the right to go it alone and represent yourself, it’s generally not a good idea to do so. Even something as seemingly straightforward as understanding a jury can be daunting when your future is on the line.
The Benefits of a Jury Trial
Juries are made up of ordinary citizens who get randomly selected from a jury pool. Before a trial begins, both the prosecution and the defense has an opportunity to question the potential jurors about their backgrounds and opinions. This process is commonly called jury selection, but it might also be referred to as voir dire. Once the prosecution and defense have agreed on the required number of jurors, the case can proceed.
Throughout the case, both sides present evidence to the jury. It’s the jury’s job to examine all the evidence and decide whether the prosecution meets its burden of proof. The jury is also permitted to ask the judge for clarifications about questions of law that come up during the case.
Each state has its own rules for juries, including how many members make up a jury. In Texas, for example, there are six kinds of trial courts. In district courts, the law requires a jury to have 12 members, but in county courts, municipal courts, and other types of courts the jury only needs six members.
A common question people have is whether it’s better to opt for a bench trial or a jury trial. In a bench trial, the judge acts as the jury, and there is no jury selection at all.
There is no definitive answer as to which type of trial is better, but an experienced criminal defense lawyer can explain the pros and cons of each one. For example, bench trials typically progress much faster than a jury trial because the parties don’t have to go through the process of jury selection, and the judge doesn’t have to respond to questions from the jury. Likewise, the parties don’t have to submit jury instructions to the court or the jury.
Bench trials also tend to be less complicated, which can sometimes be less intimidating for a defendant. In some cases, the formality of a jury trial can feel overwhelming for someone accused of a crime. It’s also possible that a bench trial will be less costly than a jury trial since they tend to progress more quickly.
On the other hand, bench trials aren’t always the best option in every case. In a jury trial, for example, there is often an additional avenue of appeal, as the defense can sometimes raise questions about whether the jury instructions were proper or contained some type of error.
Additionally, juries can sometimes be more sympathetic toward a criminal defendant than a judge. The bottom line is that every case is different, which is why it’s important to consult with a criminal defense lawyer before selecting one option over the other.
Are Juries Always Fair?
It may surprise some people, but studies tend to show that juries are by and large fair when it comes to deciding cases. In one study conducted in England, researchers looked at two years’ worth of data from over 68,000 jury verdicts. The results found that most jurors took their jobs seriously and wanted to decide the case fairly. Juries in the study also almost always reached a verdict rather than a mistrial, and they convicted in two-thirds of all cases.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that juries always get it right. There are many examples of cases in which a defendant was either acquitted or convicted by a jury, but public opinion about the case differed considerably. There have also been cases in which an individual was acquitted in criminal court but found liable in a civil case. For example, a person may get acquitted of murder in a criminal case but then go on to be found liable in a wrongful death case in civil court.
If a defendant believes the jury made a mistake, they have the opportunity to appeal their case. The decision to appeal can be complex, which is why it’s important to work with a knowledgeable Dallas Criminal Appeals Attorney.
Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case.