New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has opted for a nonjury or bench trial in his solicitation case presenting us with an interesting opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of forgoing a jury of your peers. Kraft has very likely done this on the advice of his counsel so, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Since Kraft was only charged with a misdemeanor count of solicitation, the stakes, in this case, are not incredibly high. Nonetheless, he has pleaded not guilty to two counts of soliciting a prostitute.
Jury Trial vs. Bench Trial: What’s the Difference?
It’s about as simple as you think it is. A defendant in a criminal case can opt to refuse a trial by jury in lieu of a decision rendered from the bench. In this case, the judge both rules on matters of procedure and determines if the prosecution has met its burden of proof. He then hands down the sentence too. In other words, he is judge, jury, and executioner.
There is only one major reason why you want all the decisions to rest in the hands of one person: It will move along faster. Since there is no need to go through the process of jury selection or jury instruction, that alone can shave weeks of a trial. Additionally, a bench trial is less formal than a jury trial and matters related to procedure can generally be decided quickly and without considering what is or is not more prejudicial than probative. It stands to reason that a professional jurist can make these determinations on his or her own.
One of the major drawbacks of a bench trial is that judges are elected officials. In other words, they are beholden to political pressures of their constituency as well as state politicians.
On the other hand, jury trials take a longer time. In the case of a misdemeanor count, maybe a couple of weeks. But because the case is high-profile, jurors may have already made up their minds about Kraft’s guilt or innocence.
Sometimes, however, this can work to the defense’s advantage. Jurors aren’t required by law to render decisions in accord with bench instructions or even established law. They can “vote their conscience” and there are plenty of people who do not believe prostitution should be criminalized.
Is Kraft Making the Right Decision?
It’s apparent that Kraft’s motives, in this case, are simply to get the whole thing over with. Determining what a jury might do in this kind of a case is extremely difficult. While most people might believe that prostitution should not be treated as a crime, the question of human trafficking that undergirds this particular case may sway juries in the other direction. If the prosecution starts bringing in evidence that these girls were trafficked or forced into this position against their will, a jury can come down hard on Kraft.
A judge is likely to stick as close to the law as possible. Kraft is charged with two class-b misdemeanors and only with solicitation. The judge will likely not allow the prosecution to drag human trafficking into the courtroom and will not allow sympathy for sex workers to sway their decision against Kraft.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’ve been charged with a crime, the West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at the Skier Law Firm P.A. can help you decide if a bench trial is right for you. Give us a call or talk to us online to find out more.