As a defendant in a criminal prosecution in California you have a number of rights guaranteed to you by the United States Constitution as well as the California State Constitution. Among those rights is the right to a trial by a jury of your peers. This is one of the most important rights we have in the U.S.; however, just because you have the right to a trial by jury doesn’t mean you are required to resolve your case through a trial by jury. Ultimately, the decision to proceed to jury trial is one that should only be made after a lengthy consultation with your California criminal defense attorney; however, the following factors are worthy of consideration when contemplating the question “ Should I take my criminal case to jury trial in California? ”
- Evidence – the evidence the State of California has amassed against you is always relevant – even more so in a jury trial. When considering a jury trial you have to envision how a jury member will view each piece of evidence. Some evidence has a more powerful impact on the average juror than other evidence. Expert witness testimony, for example, often has a significant influence on jurors, even if the actual testimony isn’t that important to the case.
- Defense – the State of California has the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Your do not have to prove your innocence. In fact you have an absolute right to remain silent; however, a defendant’s silence is often seen as an admission of guilt by jurors even though the judge will admonish them not to think that way. How well do you believe your testimony will go over though? Are you comfortable testifying? Will putting you on the stand risk bringing facts into the trial you don’t want in the trial?
- Plea negotiations – what has the prosecutor offered you to plead guilty?
- Risk – what is the maximum sentence you face if convicted at trial? This should be considered in relation to the plea agreement offered by the prosecutor.
- Jury pool – the U.S. Constitution guarantees you a trial by a jury of your peers. In reality, however, it may be difficult to actually empanel a jury of your peers if you are a member of a minority group, for example. Will the individuals who make up your jury be able to identify with you?
- Judge – although all judges must follow the law, all judges are not the same. Judges are individuals and, therefore, tend to have their own unique quirks, issues, and judicial style. Rulings made by the judge both before and during a trial will impact the final result, making it important to know as much about the judge a possible before making a decision.
If you are currently facing criminal charges in California and you are contemplating taking your case to jury trial it is imperative that you discuss all of the relevant factors with your California criminal defense attorney prior to making the decision.