In the early 1980s, over 50 percent of federal trials were waiver trials. By 2016, only 29 percent of trials were waiver trials. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it's entirely possible that Pennsylvania courts including the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas could see the pendulum swing back the other way.
The Philadelphia criminal court system was barely operating for nearly five months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, creating an even more significant backlog of cases than previously existed. Cases that were scheduled for preliminary hearings, pre-trial conferences, and both jury and waiver trials were given status listings so that they could be scheduled for an uncertain date in the future. Many trials scheduled for this year have now been given dates in 2021. Forgoing a jury trial in favor of a waiver trial is not only sometimes beneficial for the defendant and their Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer, but in this era, it is also potentially beneficial for the court system, the defendant, and society as a whole.
Waiver trials are faster and more efficient, allowing more cases to be tried in a shorter amount of time. Unlike jury trials, there is no need to bring in a sizeable potential juror pool from various areas increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19.
It's imperative that anyone facing criminal charges understand what a waiver trial is as well as its benefits. It is only with this knowledge that they can determine how to move forward in their case and whether it is beneficial to waive your right to a jury trial in favor of a waiver trial.
Most people know what it means to go to trial for criminal charges. However, there are generally two different types of trials. Defendants can have a jury trial or a waiver trial, also known as a bench trial. A bench trial provides a defendant with all the same constitutional rights as a jury trial.
In a jury trial, the federal or state government presents their case against the defendant to a jury of six or 12 people. In Pennsylvania, a jury is composed of 12 individuals, and two alternate jurors are also selected. These people hear the evidence and legal arguments before determining if the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charges they face.
Judges oversee jury trials by making rulings on procedural and evidentiary issues, for example:
A waiver trial is one in which the judge not only performs these duties but also takes on the jury's role. In sum, the judge becomes in charge of both the law and the facts. The judge will render the guilty or not guilty verdict after hearing the evidence against the defendant and will also make procedural decisions. The judge must provide a verdict in a waiver trial within seven days after the trial ends.
Generally, anyone charged with a felony offense has the right to a jury trial in Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania. However, some defendants, along with their Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer, will decide to waive a jury trial and opt for a waiver trial instead. Defendants have this right under Rule 620. If the defendant asks the court for a waiver trial, the judge is required to ascertain if the defendant has enough information to make an intelligent decision about the waiver. This conversation, legally referred to as an oral colloquy, must be on the record, and the waiver must be made in writing and include the signatures of the defendant, the attorney for the state, the judge, and the defendant's Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney.
Although it may seem foreign, a waiver trial actually has several benefits over a jury trial. Defendants should speak with their Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer about how a waiver trial might benefit their case.
The most common reason for waiving the right to a jury trial and requesting a bench trial is because the issue at hand requires a significant understanding of the law and the elements of a criminal offense. For example, if a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney plans to raise a technical defense such as impossibility or temporary insanity, a waiver trial may be preferable. On the other hand, a case of mistaken identity as a defense might do better in front of a jury where twelve people decide the verdict as opposed to one judge.
Another reason that bench trials can be beneficial to defendants is that if a criminal case comes down to the application of an elaborate criminal rule, many jurors may not understand it, causing them to ignore it altogether. Additionally, sometimes jury trials can make the defendant look like a terrible person. Even if this has nothing to do with the criminal charges they face, a juror is more likely to struggle with being neutral than a judge.
Bench trials are also quicker since jurors do not have to be selected, jury instructions don't have to be read, lengthy jury deliberations aren't needed, and open and closing arguments can be more succinct. Bench trials can commence sooner and be over sooner, allowing the defendant to move on with their life, no matter the outcome.
Keep in mind that each case must be evaluated individually to determine if waiving a jury trial is a good idea. A well-versed Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney is the best person to evaluate your case and help you select the type of trial that will benefit you the most and meet your goals for the outcome of your charges.
Each criminal defense case has its own set of unique facts and challenges. By hiring the right attorney, you can ensure that you have positioned yourself for success no matter what kind of trial you have. There are no concrete rules for trying a bench trial but having an experienced attorney on your side who has tried cases via a waiver trial could significantly impact the success of your case. At Wimmer Criminal Defense Law, we know that success in any type of trial is no accident; it results from hard work and preparation. We have what it takes for our clients to receive the best outcome possible in their circumstances and have secured not guilty verdicts in waiver trials in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
No matter the type of criminal charge you are facing in Pennsylvania, you need a reliable and experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who understands how to navigate your case toward the best possible resolution on your behalf. Call Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer today at 215-712-1212 or use our convenient online contact form to schedule your free legal case review.