How does a Bench Trial work in Illinois Criminal Cases?
By Dan Noll on December 17th, 2013 in
Every person accused of a criminal offense in Illinois has a constitutional right to a jury trial. However, some defendants and theirs attorneys prefer bench trials. This article will discuss what a bench trial is and the benefits and disadvantages to having a bench trial in your criminal case. For purposes of this article, our Criminal Defense Lawyers will assume the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor or felony charge.
What is a Bench Trial?
A bench trial is a trial by a judge instead of by a jury. In a bench trial, the judge serves as the fact finder as well as the legal adjudicator. This means that the judge will determine what happened based upon the credibility of witnesses. Given that the judge knows the law, the judge will apply the facts which he heard from the witnesses and exhibits and apply the facts to the law. The judge will then render a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
What is the difference between a Bench Trial and a Jury Trial?
The main difference between a bench trial and a jury trial is there is no jury impaneled in a bench trial. Without a jury, the trial is much quicker as there is no need for jury selection or jury instructions. Commonly, bench trials are more informal than jury trials. This means that there are less objections because judges are able filter out inadmissible evidence and the lawyers can speak more freely without worrying about persuading a jury.
What is the benefit of a Bench Trial?
In our opinion, there are very few reasons to waive your right to a jury trial. Often times, lawyers recommend their clients waive their right to a jury trial. In our estimation, the top three reasons why defense lawyers ask their clients to waive a jury trial are:
- The defense lawyer is lazy and does not want to commit the time for their client;
- The defense lawyer does not know what he is doing and is scared to proceed to trial in front of a jury; and
- The defense attorney does not believe in their client and wants to get the case over.
It takes time, energy and experience to be a trial lawyer. There are criminal defense lawyers who claim that they are trial lawyers who have never tried a case or who haven’t been in front of a jury in years. If you are looking for a Criminal Defense Lawyer, ask them when their last jury trial to verdict was as well as the case number and the result. Make sure the lawyer you hire will go to trial.
That said, on occasion, there are times when a bench trial is appropriate. For example, there is a complex mixture of law and facts in the case where a judge would be in the best position to hear the evidence. Another reason for to have a bench trial is if there is a technical defense to the charge, but the lawyer is concerned that the jury would be too prejudiced by the facts to hear the case fairly.
Statistically speaking, there were 48 felony bench trials in Sangamon County, Illinois in 2012. Of those 48 trials, 47 people were convicted. The numbers support our position: if you are going to trial, there better be a very good reason why you should waive your right to a jury trial.
If you are charged with a criminal offense in Springfield, Illinois or anywhere in Central Illinois, contact our Criminal Defense Lawyers today at (217) 414-8889. We would be happy to speak with you about your case. Remember, our lawyers WILL go to trial for you.