What Is a Bench Trial in Georgia?

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What is a bench trial in Georgia? Discover how bench trials operate, what sets them apart, and how Philip Kim Law, P.C. can guide you through the process of a bench trial. Call us now for more information.

 

Author: Philip Kim, Founder, Philip Kim Law, P.C.

Defense lawyer Philip Kim has committed his career to standing up for the accused, and protecting the rights and reputations of his valued clients. If you face criminal charges in Georgia, we can provide you with the skilled, effective defense representation you need.

Published on January 9, 2020, last updated on December 08, 2023.

 

What Is a Bench Trial?

Have you or a family member been accused of an offense in Georgia? Familiarizing yourself with the types of trials and understanding the associated processes can benefit you.

The purpose of a trial is to determine the innocence or guilt of the defendant, which ultimately informs the court’s decision in a civil or criminal matter. A bench trial is a form of trial conducted solely by the judge. Then, the judge decides the case after determining your innocence or guilt. 

The other kind of trial is a jury trial, where six to twelve jurors determine the innocence or guilt of the defendant. A jury trial exists for a criminal defendant in Georgia. However, requesting a bench trial can waive your right to a jury trial. 

Hiring experienced attorneys can help you make the right decision while trying to choose between a bench or jury trial. At Philip Kim Law, P.C., our criminal defense lawyers in Lawrenceville are willing to guide you in selecting which trial to opt for and how to navigate the nuances of the trial.

How Do Bench Trials Operate in Georgia?

In a trial, the prosecutor is responsible for proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Where a prosecutor fails in this responsibility, the judge cannot hold you liable for the offense you are charged with.

A bench trial process includes the following:

  • Opening Statements and Presentation of Cases: The prosecution makes its open statements first, followed by your attorney. After that, both sides will present their cases before the judge.

  • Examination and Cross-Examination of Witnesses: Both sides are allowed to present evidence and examine and cross-examine their witnesses. Cross-examination aims to show inconsistencies in a witness’s statements, which ultimately affect the weight attached to them.

  • Closing Statements: During the closing arguments, the prosecution and your attorney will discuss the witnesses and evidence, presenting arguments on the aspects they believe have been substantiated in their respective cases.

  • Determination of Innocence or Guilt: The judge considers all the evidence of the parties, their witnesses’ testimonies, and the legal arguments of the prosecution and your attorney during the trial to determine your innocence or guilt.

It is not the role of the judge to descend into the trial arena. Instead, the judge must maintain neutrality throughout the case and make an impartial decision after considering both parties’ arguments.

If found innocent, you will be acquitted, while you will be convicted and sentenced if found guilty. You can appeal to the appellate courts if you are dissatisfied with the judge’s verdict.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Bench Trials?

Understanding the potential benefits you stand to gain in a bench trial and vice-versa is a good idea.

Advantages of Bench Trials

There are several advantages to a bench trial, including the following:

  • Quick Resolution: Unlike jury trials, bench trials usually take a longer time to complete a matter. Jury trials require the process of jury selection and jury instructions, which can elongate the duration of the trial process. 

    However, choosing a bench trial can save you time, as your case can be resolved in as little as a few hours. The quick resolution of your case will also save you money if you pay your attorney hourly.

  • Rule Application: Opting for bench trials presided over by a judge well-versed in legal rules can be advantageous. In cases where complicated legal rules are applied to the facts of the case, jurors might need to pay more attention to them due to a lack of understanding.

  • Dealing with Damaging Information: There can be situations where evidence or information puts you in a bad light. In jury trials, though the judge will instruct the jury not to consider such evidence if they are irrelevant to the charge, the jury may still consider it and deduce unfavorable conclusions about you.

    However, a judge presiding over a bench trial can discard any damaging and irrelevant information in determining your innocence or guilt.

  • Practical Decision: Because of the technicality of applying laws and rules, judges in bench trials are likelier to make unemotional decisions than jurors.

Disadvantages of Bench Trials

Understanding the potential drawbacks and risks when opting for bench trials is important. The following disadvantages are associated with bench trials as opposed to jury trials:

  • One-Man Decision: In a bench trial, the prosecutor has only one person to convince to establish that you are guilty of the crime you are charged with. However, they would have to convince a jury of 6-12 persons in a jury trial.

  • Pressure Towards Conviction: Some critics question the impartiality and neutrality of judges. They believe judges might seek to please the public’s desire for conviction because they may have to stand for re-election to their public office.

  • Strict Application of Rules: One of the defense strategies that attorneys use in jury trials is to hope that the jury won’t follow the rules strictly and will make decisions on emotional grounds favorable to you. But judges may strictly apply the rules to your case. So, they are not likely to acquit a defendant on emotional grounds.

What Are Your Rights in a Bench Trial?

You have the following rights when you are charged with an offense:

  • Right to enter a plea of not guilty or guilty.
  • Right to a bench or jury trial.
  • Right to representation by an attorney.
  • Right to the presumption of innocence throughout the trial until proven guilty.
  • Right to present evidence in your defense.
  • Right to appeal if found guilty in a trial.

Philip Kim Law, P.C. Can Help You!

Navigating criminal cases in Georgia can be complicated. Consider contacting skillful criminal defense attorneys when you get a criminal case.

At Philip Kim Law, P.C., our efficient defense attorneys can guide you regarding your first court appearance and the bench trial process and build robust defense strategies for your case. We focus on honest and open communication with our clients, representing them effectively and helping them secure favorable outcomes in their trials.

Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation for professional legal advice and effective representation. 

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Philip Kim Law, P.C.
368 West Pike Street, Suite 203
Lawrenceville, GA 30046
(678) 203-6968
Fax: (678) 273-3501
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