Everyone charged with a crime in Massachusetts has the right to decide where they want to have a bench trial or a jury trial.
In the District Courts, a jury trial is when six people from the community listen to the case presented at trial and then unanimously decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. A bench trial is when a judge listens to the case and decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
The common though process is that you should select a bench trial when the main issue in the case is a question of law, while you should choose a jury trial when the main issue is a question of fact. Using the example of an OUI or DUI case, here are some examples of each:
Question of Law: The accused was approached by the police while standing outside of his car. He admitted that he had been driving, then failed field sobriety tests, and was arrested. The question in this cases whether his admission of driving is enough to support the element of operation. Because the issue is whether admission of driving is enough under the law to support operation, this is a case that is often presented at a bench trial.
Question of Fact: The accused was stopped after running a red light. He then failed the field sobriety tests and was arrested. The question in this case is whether the government can prove that he was intoxicated. Because the issue is whether or not the accused was drunk, this is a case that is often presented at a jury trial.
While this may seem simple enough, this though process does not always make sense when dealing in the real world. The location of the court and even more importantly, who the judge is, can often sway the decision one way or the other. Because of this, it is important to have an Attorney that knows how each court operates, so you can be well informed when making the decision to elect a bench trial or a jury trial.
Attorney James G. DeGiacomo is an experienced criminal defense attorney that has taken cases all over the state. As a result, Attorney DeGiacomo is in a unique position to advise his client when it makes sense to put a case before a jury and when it is better to have a bench trial.
If you have been charged with a crime, call Attorney DeGiacomo to ensure that you have all the information needed to make the right decision.