If you are currently a defendant in a criminal prosecution, one of the most important decisions you will be asked to make throughout your case is whether to waive your right to a trial by jury. Waiving your right to a jury trial is ultimately a decision that only you can make; however, you should spend sufficient time discussing your options with your defense attorney before making your final decision. In the meantime, an Omaha criminal defense attorney offers some factors you may wish to think about if you are considering waiving your right to a trial by jury.
Your 6th Amendment Right to Trial by Jury
As an accused in a criminal prosecution you have a number of important rights that are guaranteed to you by the U.S. Constitution. Most of those rights are found within the first ten Amendments, collectively known as the “Bill of Rights.” Your right to a trial by jury is located 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 committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be 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 defense.
The right to a trial by jury, like all your Constitutional rights, is your right to exercise or to waive. Be sure, however, that you discuss the issue of a jury trial early on with your defense attorney because in some jurisdictions a defendant must ask for a jury trial within a specified period of time in order to preserve the right to have his/her case decided by a jury.
Why Might You Want to Waive Your Right to a Jury Trial?
There are two reasons why you might decide to waive your right to a jury trial. If you decide to enter into a guilty plea agreement with the State of Nebraska, you will be required to waive your right to a jury trial because you have decided to plead guilty to some, or all, of the charges against you. In that case, the real issue is whether you wish to plead guilty or not.
The other reason you may be contemplating a waiver of your right to a trial by jury is that you are considering a bench trial instead. Understanding the difference between a jury trial and a bench trial (also referred to as a “trial by judge”) is critical to making this decision.
Bench Trial vs. Jury Trial
If you do not wish to plead guilty, your case will proceed to trial. At that point, the issue is whether a judge or a jury will decide the issue of guilt at that trial. At a jury trial, a group of jurors selected from the list of registered drivers or voters in most states, will sit through the trial and deliver a verdict at the end after deliberations. A bench trial is procedurally the same as a jury trial; however, instead of a jury reaching a verdict at the end, the judge decides your fate. When deciding if a judge or jury is the better option for you, questions you may want to ask yourself and/or your attorney include:
- Is it possible to sit a jury of your peers? You are probably familiar with the term “a jury of your peers,” In reality, however, a jury may not include your peers. If you are a minority, for example, and the county has very few minorities in it, you are unlikely to see many minorities represented on the jury.
- How will a jury view you? Although jurors are instructed in the law, and are supposed to reach a verdict based only on the law and the evidence presented at trial, the reality is that jurors often form opinions about the defendant that subconsciously impact their vote. Be objective and ask yourself how a jury will view you – positively or negatively?
- Is there is a victim? When a victim is involved, you need to consider how the jury will connect with the victim. If he/she will make a sympathetic witness, it won’t help your case in the eyes of a jury. On the other hand, if the alleged victim will come off as vindictive or less than truthful, it can paint you in a positive light.
Contact an Omaha Criminal Defense Attorney at Petersen Law Office
If you (or a loved one) have been charged with a criminal offense in Nebraska, consult with an experienced Omaha criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.
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