Many folks, lawyers and the accused alike, are terrified of the T word - trial. But, some cases simply need to be tried. The criminal process is complicated, but it can be boiled down to a simple process. First, charges are filed. After that, there are essentially three options. 1) The case is dismissed, 2) there is a guilty plea of some sort, or 3) there is a trial.
Why People are Afraid of Jury Trials?
Why are people afraid of trial? There are several reasons. First and foremost, you are placing your life in the hands of 12 complete strangers which is understandably a scary endeavor. Jury duty has such a negative connotation that many people think that jurors are not going to take the case seriously.
Additionally, people are scared of the "trial tax." The "trial tax" the idea that a judge will punish someone more harshly if they use the court's resources for a trial.
Are these Fears Legitimate?
Of course. When facing trial all fears are generally legitimate. Placing your hands in the life of 12 people can be scary. I do, however, disagree with the idea that jurors do not take cases seriously. Jurors never want to be on jury duty, but once they are picked they take the case seriously.
There is a sobering feeling that happens when a jury is picked, they swear an oath to be fair and impartial jurors, and they realize that a man or woman's life is on the line. Give your peers the credit they deserve. Your jury will represent your community and will take your case seriously.
What is the trial tax? A trial tax is an increase in the punishment imposed on a defendant following a trial because the defendant exercised their right to a jury trial and utilized court resources.
So, is the trial tax real? The answer is sometimes. Judges, however, are smart folks and they know whether a case needed to be tried or whether it didn't. In my experience, judges are much more likely to impose a trial tax on cases where the evidence was overwhelming, or where the evidence was very strong and the defendant turned down a "good" plea offer.
So, What Cases Need to be Tried?
There are a few different scenarios where a case might be a particularly good candidate to be tried.
Sometimes, prosecutors can force a trial by making an outrageous plea offer. Some prosecutors will do this if they really want to try the case. They may want to try the case for egotistical reasons, political reasons (DA's are elected after all), or whatever reason it may be. Judges can see through this game and recognize that the prosecutor has forced a trial via their plea deal.
In other situations, the prosecutor's case may be weak. The standard to bring charges against someone is probable cause, the standard to convict someone is beyond a reasonable doubt. These standards are exceptionally different. Many time prosecutors bring weak cases hoping to plea it out and just get a conviction. You should not be afraid to make a prosecutor try to do their job when you are confident that they are not capable of doing so.
You may have been falsely accused. This one is no more complicated than the fact that you have been falsely charged with a crime.
The most important thing is that the decision to go to trial or not is one of the biggest decisions that you will ever make in your life. Each and every case is unique and should be treated as such. Make sure and have an in-depth conversation with your attorney about whether a trial is the right decision or not. As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions.