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When Not to Have a Trial by Jury — Judge Tried Cases as Part of a Criminal Defense Strategy

Under the United States constitution, citizens who are accused of a felony have the right to a trial by a jury of their peers. However, in some cases it can be advantageous to waive this right and go with a judge tried case. If the defendant is accused of a particularly heinous crime, for example, jury members can sometimes let their emotions cloud their ability to give the defendant a fair trial.

Violent Crimes Against Children Can Sway the Jury

I represented a young woman in Louisiana who was being tried for a crime involving children. People’s emotions tend to be heightened when children have been hurt and jury members are no exception. However, the law requires that the defendant receive a fair trial without bias or prejudice.

Judges Should Be Less Emotional

In a particularly emotional situation such as this, an experienced criminal defense trial lawyer might strike the jury and go with the judge trial. The assumption is that the judge will be less likely to let his or her emotional response to the crime influence the verdict.

It is important that you hire a criminal attorney who will look at all available options to make the best defense strategy for you. In the case I was speaking about, going with a judge-tried case was the best option. My client was found not guilty, primarily because the state’s evidence was insufficient. Had we gone with the jury trial, the jury may have been influenced by the nature of the crime and would not have actually considered the evidence. The outcome for my client was successful and she has been a productive citizen ever since.

45 Day Deadline

In Louisiana, a criminal trial attorney must give the district attorney’s office 45 days notice before the trial date that he or she intends to strike the jury. If your attorney does not meet the 45 day deadline, the state may refuse to strike the jury. In short, if you miss the deadline, the state gets to make the decision of whether to go with a jury or judge tried case.  This is yet another reason to hire a criminal defense lawyer who tries a lot of criminal cases – you need as many options for your defense as possible.

Thomas Alonzo

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