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Should you ask for a bench trial in your criminal case?

When you're charged with a serious criminal offense, the right to a trial by a jury of your peers is usually considered sacrosanct. But what if you want to wave that right and ask a judge to make all of the decisions on your case?

You do have that option. Trial by jury is a right, not an obligation. There are some situations where asking for a "bench trial" -- where the judge calls all the shots from beginning to end -- can be to a defendant's advantage.

What are the pros and cons of a bench trial?

Sometimes, the biggest advantage to a bench trial is its speed. Without having to go through the jury selection process, cases tend to proceed much more quickly through court. If you want your case over with quickly, a bench trial may be the way to go.

Other benefits of a bench trial include:

  • Judges have a better understanding of the law and may appreciate a creative legal argument better than a jury.
  • When a judge says some kind of statement or evidence is inadmissible, you don't have to worry that the damage is done simply by having it mentions (like you might with a jury).
  • Judges are sworn to be objective, which may mean less problems with inherent biases or prejudices -- or bows to public sentiment when an offense has made the news.

The main disadvantage of a bench trial, of course, is that your fate rests entirely in one individual's hands. With a jury trial, you have as many chances of an acquittal as you do jurors -- and that may not be an advantage you want to give up.

If you've been charged with a crime in Georgia, find out if a bench trial is in your best interests by talking the details over with an experienced defense attorney.

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