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What is a Bench Trial?


Most people are familiar with what a Jury Trial is because we see them all the time in film and on television: you have a jury of twelve sitting in a jury box while a prosecutor and a defense attorney take turns calling witnesses and objecting to one another’s questions, after which the jury deliberates and decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. A Bench Trial is different because you do not have a jury deciding whether you’re guilty or not guilty; instead, you have a judge that sits there, hears the case, and makes the decision.

In the Myrtle Beach area, all summary court cases, meaning all Municipal and all Magistrate court cases, start out as Bench Trials. If you’ve ever gotten a speeding ticket and wanted to fight it, you may have attended court date, and stood in front of the judge and explained to the judge what happened and why you believe don’t deserve the speeding ticket. That is a Bench Trial.

The issue with attending a Bench Trial is this: do you really want to stand in front of a judge and have that judge, and only that judge, determine whether you’re guilty or not guilty? It can easily become very awkward for an individual to assert their rights during a Bench Trial because when a judge asks, “what happened?” you probably don’t want to say, “I’m going to exercise my right to remain silent.” Most people think that they should speak at a Bench Trial.

It is also possible to have a Bench Trial in the Circuit Court, the felony court, but it almost never happens because it’s so much better to trust your fate to a jury of your peers rather than have the court system decide if you’re guilty and what should happen to you. At a Bench Trial, just like in a Jury Trial, it is the government that has the burden of proving you guilty, but too often when faced with a demanding judge, it’s easy to forget that; so, a Bench Trial is usually a very bad idea if you want the best result in your case.

In South Carolina you have the right to a Jury Trial even on the most minor offenses – and when you request a Jury Trial, you stop the prosecution. The prosecutor, the police, the judge, no one can do anything bad to you unless they impanel a jury, and that gives you the leverage and the time to assert the proper defenses.

At the Complete Legal Defense Team, we request a Jury Trial on every case. If you or a loved one have received a ticket or been arrested and have a Bench Trial date coming up, contact us at the Complete Legal Defense Team to learn how we can help you prepare the best defense.

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