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Should You Go To Trial In Your Criminal Case?


This is something that a lot of people who are charged with crimes throughout Los Angeles county and even the United States, grapple with every day.  Trying to figure out whether they should go to a jury trial, whether they should let a jury decide their fate in a criminal case because that’s really what you’re doing when you go to trial.

The jury is going to listen to the prosecutor’s evidence.  They’ll listen to your criminal defense attorney cross-examine each of the witnesses that the prosecutors put on.  They’ll be an opening statement, a closing argument.

The defense will also get to put on a case if they choose to and call witnesses, and the prosecution will get to cross-examine those witnesses and of course you, as a criminal defendant, are permitted to testify, but you’re going to have to withstand cross-examination by the prosecuting attorney where they can ask you a lot of embarrassing questions and try to get you to say or do something that either makes you look bad or incriminates you.

Review Trial Strategy with Your Criminal Lawyer

So, making this decision whether to go to trial or not is really a difficult one sometimes. Obviously you’re going to want to make this decision in conjunction with consulting with your attorney.  But, when clients come to me and they’re asking me whether or not they should go to trial, for me it’s fairly easy.

I basically tell them, listen, if you did something wrong in this case and you know whether you did or you didn’t and you did something criminal , then you should probably, through consultation with your attorney, figure out a way to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutors and move on with your life.

If on the other hand, you did not do anything criminal, you did not do anything wrong, then you shouldn’t be taking a deal in the case.  You should be setting the case for trial and let your attorney defend you, put on your defense.  A lot of these cases where somebody’s innocent, of course, they should have their say in court and they should testify, in my opinion.

Now, these are generalizations.  You’ve really got to sit down with your attorney who knows all the facts and details about your case when making a decision whether to go to trial or not because there’s a lot on the line when you go to trial.  If you work out a deal with the prosecutors, you typically know what your sentence is going to be and you have some safety and security there because you know exactly what’s going to happen to you.

Losing Case Means Losing Control Over What Happens To You

If on the other hand, you go to trial and you end up losing the case and the jury finds you guilty, you then lose control over what’s going to happen to you and now spins over to the particular judge — that’s the trial judge — and they’re going to be the ones deciding what your fate’s going to be.Should You Go To Trial In Your California Criminal Case?

Your attorney can submit a sentencing memorandum.  The prosecutor can do so.  They’ll be a probation report, but ultimately the judge, after evaluating everything will be the one that makes the final decision.

So, this has a degree of dangerousness to it because you don’t know what that judge is going to do.  You don’t know how that judge is going to view your case and how that judge is going to view the fact that you went to jury trial and ended up being found guilty.

So, this is definitely you want to take into consideration.  If you can get a resolution where you’re out of custody relatively quickly versus you could face a huge amount of time in criminal custody, that is definitely a big factor that may weigh in favor of your attorney working out a deal for you.

So, really what you want to do when you’re deciding whether to go to jury trial is flush out the issues that surround your case with your attorney.  I’ve done probably over 250 jury trials since practicing criminal defense for over twenty-five years.

So, I can pretty much give my client a good idea of what evidence the prosecutors are going to put on to try and prove the case and give you a good feel for how a jury might perceive that evidence.  Then I’m going to be able to tell you what your defense is going to be based on the evidence, based on our conversation, and obviously, based on what makes sense and how we would put that defense on and how a jury might view that.

But when all is said and done, there’s no surety.  There’s no perfect algebraic formula that tells you exactly what’s going to happen in your criminal case because when you go to jury trial twelve members of the community who you don’t know are going to be deciding whether your innocent or guilty and they bring with them a lot of different things.

Experienced Jury Trial Defense Lawyer

Sometimes they bring with them bias and prejudice against criminal defendants thinking that they must be guilty if the state filed a case against them.  This is something that’s going to be dealt with and grappled with in the voir dire at he jury trial level, but still you can’t creep into a person’s mind and see everything that they’re thinking and how they view things.  So, sometimes that works to the prosecutor’s advantage and sometimes it works to the defense’s advantage.

So, there is a degree of uncertainty when you take your criminal case to trial for both sides.  The prosecutors can lose cases as well  or there can be hung juries because they get particular jurors that don’t want to find a person guilty or don’t trust the prosecutors.

There’s a whole host of different factors that go into these jury trials.  That’s why in my opinion it’s crucial that you hire an experienced California criminal defense attorney who’s been down this road before, knows how to handle a jury trial and knows how to help you make the decision whether going to trial in your case in Los Angeles makes sense or not.

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About the Author

Named Top Los Angeles Criminal Attorney by LA Times and named one of the Top 100 criminal defense attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.