If you are currently facing criminal charges, you are probably worried about the outcome of the case and, consequently, your future. Unless you have been through the criminal justice system numerous times, you also likely have a number of questions about the system in general and about your case specifically. One of the most important decisions you will need to make as a defendant in a criminal prosecution is whether to waive your right to a trial by jury. Given the unique facts and circumstances surrounding your case, it is imperative that you only make that decision after consulting with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney first. To give you some things to think about, however, a criminal defense attorney offers some common considerations when deciding whether or not to waive your right to trial by jury.
Your Constitutional Right to a Trial by Jury
The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, collectively referred to as the “Bill of Rights,” outlines a number of rights and privileges you have in the U.S. You right to a trial by jury is found in the 6th Amendment which reads as follows:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”
Why Would You Waive Your Right to a Jury Trial?
There are two circumstances in which you would need to waive your right to a trial by jury. The first is if you plan to enter into a guilty plea agreement with the State of Nebraska (or the U.S. government if it is a federal prosecution) that has been negotiated between your attorney and the prosecuting attorney. Keep in mind that if you decide to enter into a plea agreement, you must be prepared to tell the judge you are guilty. It may seem unnecessary to emphasize this; however, many defendants look at a guilty plea agreement as a quick, easy, and known quantity solution – more like a compromise — without stopping to think about the fact that it is a guilty plea agreement. For the judge to accept your guilty plea agreement you will need to agree that you committed the crime and waive your right to trial by jury. Once the agreement is accepted, you will have a conviction on your record and the case is finished.
The other reason you might need to waive your right to a trial by jury is if you decide to allow a judge to determine your fate. Known as a “bench trial” or “trial by judge,” it simply means that at the end of your trial it will be the judge who decides if you are guilty or not guilty instead of a jury. When deciding between a jury and a judge for your trial there are several factors that are typically considered. One is the judge himself/herself. Your criminal defense attorney will undoubtedly know if the judge has a history of leaning one way or the other when deciding the fate of a defendant. Another factor is often the presence of a victim. Often, when a case involves a very believable and sympathetic victim, jurors develop an emotional attachment to the victim despite being told not to do so. This can lead to a guilty verdict despite the absence of actual evidence against the defendant. In general, a judge is more likely than jurors to stick to the black and white letter of the law. Sometimes that works in a defendant’s favor, in which case waiving a jury trial makes sense. Sometimes it works against a defendant, in which case it is strategically better to allow a jury to decide the case.
The important thing to keep in mind is that your right to a trial by jury is an absolute right guaranteed to you in the U.S. Never waive that right without first consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney right away to discuss possible defenses. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.