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Understanding Criminal Procedure and Bench Trials in Alabama

What is a Bench Trial in a Criminal Case in Alabama?

In a bench trial, a judge hears the evidence, determines the facts and any legal issues that arise, and decides whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty. There is no jury involved in a bench trial. 

The same procedural and evidentiary rules apply to bench trials and jury trials. And in both cases, the prosecution must prove the charge against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. In a jury trial, the jurors decide whether the prosecution has done this whereas, in a bench trial, this is the role of the judge. 

A bench trial is usually automatic for “petty” offenses (where the potential sentence is six months or less imprisonment). For more serious offenses, a defendant can waive their constitutional right to a jury trial and ask to have a bench trial. This usually requires the agreement of the court and prosecution.

If you're facing criminal charges in Wetumpka, you need an attorney who understands the law and who can craft your defense. Call Stone & Britt, LLC today at 334-517-6520 to schedule a consultation to learn more. 

What are the Benefits of a Bench Trial in Wetumpka?

There are several advantages to a bench trial, depending on the circumstances of a case.  

More efficient

Bench trials generally lead to a quicker resolution. This is because there is no jury selection process and the court doesn't have to explain the relevant law to a jury. A bench trial flows more smoothly, as a judge can discuss any issues with the parties as they arise, rather than sending the jury out each time. 

More neutral decision maker

A defendant may elect for a bench trial because judges can apply the law in a more neutral, dispassionate way. Given their professional experience, they can set aside any potential biases. For example, a bench trial may be preferable if the case is high profile and has attracted wide press coverage. 

A judge can also set aside any potentially damaging, inadmissible information that may arise during a trial. It can be more difficult for jurors to disregard this information once they have heard it, even when they're told to do so. 

More predictable

Bench trials are also considered more predictable. The parties can understand a judge's position on a legal issue before the trial starts based on previous rulings. This is especially the case if the same judge hears and decides any pretrial motions, as well as the trial. In comparison, the only opportunity to gauge a juror's position is during voir dire. 

Complex legal arguments

Finally, a bench trial may be preferable where a case involves technical legal arguments. A judge has expert knowledge of the law and can understand and apply complex legal concepts. A jury in the same case may find it more challenging to do so. 

How a Criminal Defense Attorney in Alabama Can Help You

These are just some factors you may consider when deciding to have a bench trial over a jury trial. But there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Deciding whether to waive your constitutional right to a jury trial is a nuanced issue and there are many complex considerations to take into account. 

Before deciding, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney here at Stone & Britt, LLC. They can identify the relevant factors such as the legal issues, potential defenses, and defense strategy so you can make the best tactical decision in your case. Fill out an online submission form or call us at 334-517-6520 for a consultation.

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