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Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer > > Criminal Defense > Bench Trials In Pennsylvania Criminal Cases

Bench Trials In Pennsylvania Criminal Cases


Criminal defense lawyers often try to reassure defendants during their initial meetings that prosecutors face a difficult task.  The jury cannot convict the defendant unless all 12 jurors are completely sure that the defendant is guilty.  Therefore, your defense strategy can be anything that would cause the jurors to doubt your guilt.  In some cases, defense lawyers put as much effort into persuading judges to suppress prosecutors’ incriminating evidence, if they obtained this evidence illegally, as preparing evidence that they do want the jury to see.  Sometimes prosecutors and defense attorneys even disagree at length about whether a prospective juror is unfairly biased.  Since the law includes all of these safeguards to ensure that the defendant gets a fair trial, why do some defendants waive the right to a jury trial and choose a bench trial instead?  To find out more about exercising your rights and getting the fairest possible trial, contact a Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer.

Why Would Defendants Place Their Fate in the Hands of a Judge Instead of a Jury?

In a bench trial, there is no jury.  Instead, the judge hears all of the evidence from both sides and makes the decision single handedly.  Bench trials are much more common in civil cases than in criminal ones.  The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial, and Pennsylvania law interprets this to mean that, in all except cases involving the most trivial offenses, the defendant has the right to face a jury.

Despite this, some defendants choose a bench trial.  They might do this because they fear that jurors, even the ones approved by defense lawyers, will be too quick to convict because of the way that the media has covered other cases similar to the defendant’s.  If the defendant’s innocence or guilt rests on complex legal issues, they may worry that prosecutors will confuse jurors with verbal sleight of hand or appeals to emotion.  In these cases, the judge is in a better position to evaluate the strength of each side’s case fairly.

In the News

In 2018, Anthony Dion Shaw stabbed his girlfriend Cindy Lou Ashton to death in her apartment.  He was charged with first degree murder, but the case went on for years.  Shaw’s lawyers were able to suppress forensic evidence recovered from Ashton’s apartment, including a letter that Shaw had apparently intended as a suicide note, in which he confessed to killing Ashton.  In early 2024, Shaw opted for a bench trial, even though the judge who would decide the case had already seen the suppressed evidence.  Shaw acknowledged that he understood that he was waiving the right to a jury trial and that the decision rested with a judge who had seen evidence that jurors would not be allowed to see.  The judge convicted Shaw, and he has since appealed his conviction.

Contact Gary E. Gerson About Criminal Defense Cases

A criminal defense lawyer can help you if you are considering a bench trial instead of a jury trial.  Contact the law offices of Gary E. Gerson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania about your case.




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