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Should You Ever Waive Your Right to a Jury Trial?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ. | Sep 23, 2019

This is a good question because the bottom line is, a jury trial when it comes to criminal cases, is probably one of our most sacred and important right. The right to a jury trial is protected by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

However, you have the right to waive a jury trial in criminal cases in Los Angeles in favor of a bench trial, which is a trial where the judge alone decides the verdict. In most cases, you probably don't want to waive your right to a jury trial, but there are some situations where it would make sense..

So, to waive it, you'd really have to have some sort of a strategy that made more sense to have a judge hear the facts or your case than to have a jury hear the facts of your case.  And that's rarely the case because if the Judge is going to find your client not guilty or reduce a charge, then you would think a jury would do it as well, and even the prosecutors would look at the case and say, you know what, there's a problem with this case.  We ourselves are going to do this, so it's very rare that you're going to want to have a judge to actually be the decider of facts in a criminal case.

Reviewing Strategy With Your Criminal Defense Lawyer

You always want to have that jury because then you have a bunch of different people.  You have a bunch of different minds looking at it and depending on what the issue is in your case, you're gonna want to really evaluate whether it makes sense to let a judge decide that issue.

Waive Jury Trial in a Criminal Case in Los Angeles

Now, of course, there are cases where having the judge decide the issue is the best for your client and the only way to really determine that is if you sit down with your attorney and you figure out exactly what the issues are in the case.  In other words, what is the finder-of-fact or the jury going to have to find in order for your position to be won — in order for your position to be successful.

Once you make that determination, then you can figure out who's in the best position from your perspective to be the trier of fact, to listen to the evidence and to make the ultimate decision whether your client is innocent or guilty of a particular charge or charges.  Most of the time it's going to be a jury.  If it is a judge, it's usually going to probably be some sort of a legal issue.

You also have to realize that just because you might want a judge to hear the case versus a jury, the prosecutors may not want that.  The prosecutors who represent the People of the State of California also have the right to have a jury trial.  So, when it comes to a criminal case, if a defendant has a right to have a jury trial, so does the prosecutor.

In order to waive a jury and have a judge decide the case, we call that a court trial.  What you're going to have to have is both the prosecutor and the defense attorney for the defendant agreeing to have that court trial and the defendant is going to have to be admonished that they're giving up the right to have a jury trial.

They're actually going to have to agree to it on the criminal record so they don't have some sort of an appeal later, saying they got cheated.  A judge should never have decided the case.  We should have let a jury decide that case.

Determining Whether Waiving Jury Trial is in Your Best Interest

So, no one's going to be able to tell you without having all the facts and details surrounding your case whether or not it's a good idea to have a judge hear your case versus a jury.  An attorney is going to have to look at everything and is going to have to see who the judge is going to be — that's another issue — and then is going to have to evaluate the case and really make an informed decision as to whether or not waiving a jury right is something that is in your best interest.

I always like to have a jury.  I think jurors do know what they're doing.  I do think juries decide cases the right way.  I think our American Justice System is one of the best in the world and having that jury right is so important.

So, I would very rarely tell anyone to waive it.  I have had cases where I've done it, but it has to make sense under the circumstances and I have to make sure that my client and I really think that it's the best move and then we can proceed to do the jury trial waiver and let the judge decide the case.

Usually court trials go much quicker than jury trials because judges can hear certain things that juries can't.  Judges can really weave through the evidence pretty quickly and make a decision.

So, if you are going to have a judge trial versus a jury trial, your case will go much quicker.  It'll be much smoother and more efficient.  The only problem with it is, a lot of times you're just getting yourself convicted quicker and going to end up in jail or prison faster, so make sure before you waive that right to a jury, you make an informed decision with the counsel of your criminal defense attorney.

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

Ronald D. Hedding, Esq., is the founding member of the Hedding Law Firm. Mr. Hedding has an extensive well-rounded legal background in the area of Criminal Law. He has worked for the District Attorney's Office, a Superior Court Judge, and as the guiding force behind the Hedding Law Firm. His multi-faceted experience sets Mr. Hedding apart and puts him in an elite group of the best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Southern California.