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Judge or Jury: Five Factors to Consider

Under Pennsylvania’s constitution, both the accused and the prosecution are entitled to request a jury trial for certain criminal charges. If both sides waive their right to a jury trial, a judge presides instead. Consider these factors when deciding whether to fight your case in front of a judge or jury.

  1. 1. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. In a criminal case, the prosecution needs to convince the jury or the judge that the defendant committed the crime. It may be harder for the prosecution to convince 12 people of your guilt rather than just one judge. As a defendant, you only need to convince one juror you are not guilty to win.
  2. 2. The judge is a seasoned professional. The judge has probably seen hundreds or even thousands of cases just like yours. This may make the judge impatient to the point of prejudging your case based on others that have come before you. On the other hand, a judge is more experienced at being a detached and impartial observer and is less swayed by emotion than a jury.
  3. 3. The jury’s job is to determine the facts. The jury doesn’t need to know the law. The jury’s role is to make findings of fact and the judge’s job is to apply the facts to the law. If your trial strategy relies heavily on interpretation of law, your case may not be suitable for a jury trial.
  4. 4. The jury is supposed to be a cross-section of the community. Since a jury is ideally composed of people from different walks of life, you might have a better chance of finding a sympathetic ear for your story than you would dealing with one particular judge.
  5. 5. Jurors are not usually happy about serving. Many potential jurors try to avoid being picked for a jury because they don’t want to miss work or because jury duty interrupts their daily routine. The jurors that are chosen sometimes serve with resentment. This can work to your advantage if you can successfully portray the prosecutor to the jurors as the one responsible for wasting their precious time.

As a defendant, it is best for you to know whether your interests are best served by a jury trial or a judge. Either way, do not try to go it alone. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain your options and help you determine the best courtroom strategy.

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