Bench Trials Demystified: Understanding the Process and Implications
The Constitution guarantees the right to a fair and speedy trial if someone is charged with a crime. Even if someone is charged with a minor traffic violation, they have the right to a trial.
Some cases require a trial by a jury of peers, while others are only allowed a trial to be decided by just the judge overseeing the case. This is called a bench trial or a trial by the court, where the presiding judge determines the verdict and the sentence if that is what is required.
If you, or someone you love, has been charged with a crime, and it is determined that a bench trial is to be conducted, it can be important to understand the process. It’s also recommended you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can represent your case well and help you to understand the proceedings.
The Defenders is a criminal defense law firm in Las Vegas. Our attorneys can help to ensure your rights are protected and that you get a fair trial. Don’t take chances with the outcome of your case – call The Defenders today for more information about how we can help!
Can Anyone Choose a Bench Trial Over a Jury Trial?
The simple answer is no.
Everyone charged with a crime has the right to a trial but in Nevada, any crime with a penalty of six months or less in jail does not have the right to a jury trial.
If you suspect a crime only has a maximum sentence of six months or less, which is usually the case for misdemeanor crimes, you will automatically be given a bench trial.
The only case where a misdemeanor can be tried by a jury is the charge of domestic violence. Defendants charged with domestic violence can request a trial by a jury if they choose to.
The Elements of a Bench Trial in Nevada
Bench trials are usually much shorter and take less time than jury trials since there will be no jury selection process.
Once the court assigns a judge to a case, you cannot personally choose a different judge. However, your attorney has the option to request the removal of a judge if they believe that there is a bias towards either party.
After the judge gets the case and the court date is set, the trial begins with:
- Opening statements: Both the prosecution and defense present opening statements to the judge. The prosecution usually goes first and the defense will follow.
- Presenting evidence: Again both sides will present their evidence either to find the defendant guilty or in defense of the accused.
- Closing arguments: Both sides after presenting the evidence to the judge will present closing arguments
- Judicial deliberation by the judge: In some cases, this may take weeks or months depending on the amount of evidence presented.
- Verdict: The judge will set a date and request all parties attend to announce the verdict.
- Sentencing: Usually the judge will sentence the party if found guilty at the time the verdict is read.
What Are the Advantages of a Jury Trial
While a bench trial may be much shorter and less costly than a jury trial, some people think that they might have a better shot at a jury trial.
The general consensus is that a defendant has a better chance of getting a fair trial by taking a chance with a jury.
A jury is supposed to be made up of someone’s peers, therefore giving them a better chance at a favorable outcome.
Jury trials do offer something a bench trial does not. In a trial decided by a jury, you have an extra option of having the jury hung, where they cannot come to a decision of guilt or innocence based on the evidence.
This gives the defense another chance at getting a favorable verdict.
In some cases, a jury trial that ends with a hung jury may not be tried again by the prosecution and the case could be dismissed altogether.
This does not happen in major criminal cases like murder, however, less severe cases may be dropped because the prosecution feels that the evidence may not support another trial and the cost of another trial.
Can I Pick the Judge in a Bench Trial
When a court date is set for a trial, the judges are usually randomly picked by the court clerk who assigns the cases. Each court has judges that work in a particular section of the court.
For example, the civil court and criminal court each have a group of judges in that particular department. Judges are frequently rotated throughout a court’s divisions so they never stay in one place too long.
If you want to change the bench trial judge, the only way to do so is by filing a motion to have the judge removed from the case. If a judge is given a case that they might have a bias towards one party or another they are required to recuse themselves from the case.
If a judge refuses to recuse themselves for bias then either the prosecution or the defense may bring a motion to the court to disqualify the judge.
For example, if you are facing a drunk driving charge and the judge had a child die in a drunk driving accident, the judge will have a bias against people suspected of drunk driving and should recuse themselves from the case.
Can I Appeal a Verdict of a Bench Trial in Nevada
A defendant who is convicted of a crime in a bench trial has the right to appeal the verdict to a higher court for review.
If a case was tried in the Las Vegas Justice Center court, then the appeal would go to the next higher court, The Clark County District Court.
If a person is found guilty in The Clark County Court then the appeal would be reviewed by the Nevada Supreme Court.
Trial verdicts have many ways to be appealed including motions for a new trial and writs of habeas corpus. The higher court or appellate court will review all the evidence presented at the original trial and any new evidence that has come to light since and render a verdict.
If the original verdict is overturned by the appeals court, the case could be turned back over to the original court for another trial or overturned altogether.
The Defenders—Your Bench Trial Attorneys
If you have been charged with a crime in Nevada, our law firm is here to help. The Defenders is a criminal defense law firm that defends many types of criminal charges including DUIs, felonies, misdemeanors, domestic violence, sex crimes, murder, drug charges, white collar crimes and more than a dozen other criminal cases.
Hiring the right legal team is important and can affect the outcome of your case. But time is critical, you need to hire a lawyer sooner than later before the trouble gets deeper.
If you have been charged with a crime in Nevada you need to hire a law firm that is based in Nevada and knows the ins and outs of the legal system in Nevada even if you are not a Nevada local. The Defenders is a firm with proven results for our clients.
What Can the Defenders Do for You
Before facing trial for your criminal charges in either a bench trial or a jury trial, The Defenders will:
- Investigate your case to determine all the facts surrounding the alleged crime
- Determine whether there was police error or misconduct, or whether you have been falsely accused
- Go over the strengths and weaknesses of your case to give you an idea of how things will go
- Inform you of all your legal options available to you
- Offer sound legal advice
When you are charged with a crime and facing trial, prosecutors have a vast amount of resources to gather evidence to convict you at a bench or jury trial.
The Defenders are well prepared for the prosecution’s tactics and can help you aggressively defend against them. We will use all of our resources to aggressively defend against your charges. Contact our team today for a free case evaluation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a bench trial and a jury trial?
A bench trial is a trial in which the judge presides over the case and decides the verdict, whereas in a jury trial, a group of randomly selected citizens (the jury) decides the verdict.
How long does a bench trial typically last?
The duration of a bench trial can vary depending on the complexity of the case and the amount of evidence presented. However, bench trials are generally shorter than jury trials, as they do not require jury selection or jury deliberations.
Can anyone choose a bench trial over a jury trial?
No, not everyone can choose a bench trial over a jury trial. In Nevada, any crime with a penalty of six months or less in jail does not have the right to a jury trial. Misdemeanor crimes typically result in bench trials. However, defendants charged with domestic violence can request a trial by a jury if they choose to.
What are the advantages of a jury trial?
Some advantages of a jury trial include having a better chance at a fair trial, being tried by one’s peers which may lead to a more favorable outcome, and the possibility of a hung jury, which might result in the case being dismissed altogether.
What are the advantages of a bench trial?
Bench trials offer several advantages, including faster proceedings, legal expertise from the presiding judge, and reduced expenses compared to jury trials. Additionally, they provide more predictability in outcomes and focused attention on the case, while being less influenced by emotions. Bench trials can also offer greater confidentiality in sensitive or high-profile cases.
Can I pick the judge in a bench trial?
No, you cannot personally choose the judge in a bench trial. Judges are usually randomly picked by the court clerk. If you want to change the judge, your attorney can file a motion to have the judge removed from the case due to bias or other concerns.
Can I appeal a verdict of a bench trial in Nevada?
Yes, a defendant who is convicted of a crime in a bench trial has the right to appeal the verdict to a higher court for review. The appellate court will review all the evidence presented and render a verdict, which could overturn the original verdict or order a new trial.