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Jury Trials and Bench Trials in Illinois

June 8th, 2015 at 6:39 am

Illinois defense attorney, Illinois criminal lawyer, judicial procedureMost people know that if you are facing criminal charges, and your case goes to trial, you have the right to a jury trial. Here in Illinois the right to a jury trial is in our state constitution. What many people do not realize, however, is that many criminal cases that result in trials do not result in jury trials. Instead, many people who are charged with a crime choose to have what is called a ┬Ębench trial.” In a bench trial, instead of having a jury decide whether you are guilty or innocent, the judge in your case makes the decision.

What Do Jury Trials Involve in Illinois?

People usually think of juries as being just like they are on television — made up of 12 people who are locked away from the public throughout the entire trial and who must all agree on any decision the jury makes. In reality, juries are different in each state, just like laws are different across state lines as well. In Illinois, criminal defendants have the right to a public trial by an impartial jury of the county in which the offense is alleged to have been committed. The jury will typically be made up of 12 members, and there may alternate jurors. Alternates are jurors who are there in case one of the original 12 get sick or injured or otherwise cannot continue to serve, thus requiring a substitution. Typically jurors are not sequestered, that is, not locked up in a hotel away from their families at night, even in serious cases. There has to be an extreme reason for a judge to sequester a jury in a regular criminal case. In Illinois all 12 jurors do have to agree in order for a defendant to be convicted or found not guilty. If they cannot agree the judge may declare a mistrial, which may result in the case being tried all over again. Jury trials generally take longer than bench trials because the jury selection process is a lengthy one, and jury trials also require specific steps, such as instructing the jurors on the law.

What Do Bench Trials Involve in Illinois?

In a bench trial the judge will decide whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty. A bench trial can only be held if a defendant waives his or her right to a jury trial. The judge will hear opening statements, listen to the evidence, and listen to closing arguments just like a jury would in a jury trial. The difference here is that you have one person who knows the law deciding your fate, instead of 12 members of society who likely have little experience with the criminal justice system.

Which strategy is best for you depends on the specific facts of your case, including what you are charged with and what your defense is. If, for example, you are charged with a serious assault but you have a very sympathetic defense, you may be better off with a jury. On the other hand, if your defense is a technical legal defense, you may be better off with a judge who has a better understanding of the law. There exist many factors that go into this decision that you will need to discuss with your attorney before making the right choice for yourself.

Call the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley

If you are facing criminal charges you have many decisions to make. In order to make the best decisions for your situation you will need the advice of an experienced and passionate Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorney. If you are charged in Rolling Meadows, you should call the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley at (847)394-3200.

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