Right to Jury Trial

Criminal Defense Lawyer for Tampa Area Residents

Under the Sixth Amendment and Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, you have the right to a jury trial if a serious crime is charged. The right to a jury trial doesn’t apply in all situations, and in some cases, it is not wise to exercise the right. There are many cases in which reasonable plea deals can be reached with the prosecution. If you are worried about your right to jury trial after being arrested or charged with a crime, a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney can answer your questions regarding your legal rights.

Right to Jury Trial

How you plead at your arraignment will determine whether you can go to trial before a jury. When a plea is not guilty or no contest, the case will not proceed to trial. You can proceed to trial if you plead not guilty. The trial may be before a judge (called a bench trial) or before a jury. All parties and the judge need to agree in order for a bench trial to be held. Often bench trials are only for minor charges where the issues are legal rather than factual.

The right to jury trial is invoked with regard to serious crimes, rather than petty ones. Serious crimes are those in which the potential jail sentence is at least 6 months. Where multiple charges are filed, the aggregate jail time may be more than 6 months’ incarceration. Even so, that is not enough to trigger the right to a jury trial.

Jury Trial

If you are considering taking your case to trial, it is important to be aware that juries can be unpredictable. In Florida, most juries are made of up six people. The exception is in first degree murder cases, which must be heard by a 12-person jury. Jury decisions must be unanimous for convictions to occur. While it may be easy for a prosecutor to convince a judge in a bench trial that there is no reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offense charged, it is significantly more challenging for a prosecutor to establish to all six people on a jury that there is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Getting that unanimous verdict is hard, and your criminal defense attorney’s job is to push for those six jurors to see the reasonable doubt in your case. You only need to convince one juror that there is reasonable doubt in order to avoid being convicted at trial.

When your criminal case goes to trial, the jury hears the evidence and arguments both for and against you. They decide not only whether a crime was committed, but also whether you are criminally culpable for it. Both sides can strike jurors for bias during voir dire, or the jury selection process. Trials are often won or lost during voir dire.

After closing arguments, the jury goes to a back room to deliberate. They will talk among themselves in the jury room about your case, and they are supposed to do this until they get to a unanimous verdict. They are not supposed to talk to their families or others outside the jury room about the case during deliberations, and deliberations can go on for days or weeks or even months. When juries are unable to come to a unanimous verdict, the court will declare a mistrial. Under those circumstances, the case will have to go before another jury later on.

Consult a Skillful Criminal Defense Attorney in Tampa

The right to jury trial is an important one, but it’s essential to be strategic about invoking it. Moreover, it is crucial to obtain representation from a criminal defense attorney who understands how to pick a jury and how to present a case to a jury in Tampa. Not all criminal defense lawyers have trial experience. Some always cut plea deals and never take cases to trial. It’s vital to talk to experienced criminal defense counsel who can negotiate a good plea deal when negotiation is possible, but who can also think about what your chances in front of a jury are. At Hanlon Law, our founder Will Hanlon has strong trial experience and has represented the accused since 1994. Please contact us at 813-228-7095 or via our online form.