Should I Choose a Judge or Jury Trial? FAQ’s with a Criminal Defense Attorney

We are often asked if it's better to choose a judge or jury trial. Read our answer, and contact an experienced lawyer for a FREE initial consultation.
As experienced criminal defense jury trial attorneys in Larimer and Boulder County, we are often asked: “Should I choose a judge or jury trial in my case?” This is an important question to ask if you have been charged with a crime such as Burglary, Arson, or Disorderly Conduct in Fort Collins, Loveland, or Estes Park. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding whether to choose a judge or jury trial in your criminal case:

Judge vs. Jury Trials in Larimer County

When you choose to have a judge trial, you are allowing one person to decide if you are innocent or guilty. When you choose a jury trial, there are more “judges” to decide your fate. The more people involved in your trial, the better the chance of receiving a fair hearing of the evidence. It is rarely in your best interest to choose a judge trial. In Larimer County, you are entitled to a jury trial if jail is a possible sentence in your case.

Number of Jurors for a Felony Case

If your case has a felony charge, you are entitled to a twelve (12) person jury. You are given a large amount of people because of what is at stake. In a felony case, you face prison time if you lose. If the jurors aren’t unanimous in their decision about your guilt or innocence, there will be a mistrial. If your case ends in a mistrial, the prosecution has 90 days to retry your case with a new jury.

Number of Jurors for a Misdemeanor Case

If your case has misdemeanor charges, you are entitled to a six (6) person jury. Never agree to fewer jurors. This will make it easier to convict you. The worst sentence you can receive for a misdemeanor conviction is up to 24 months in the Larimer County Jail.

Jurors in Municipal or City Court Cases

If your case is a municipal or city court case, you will only be able to request a jury if your charges could result in jail time. If jail is a possible consequence and you wish to have a jury in your case, you will be required to:

  1. Pay a $25 fee
  2. Make a written request for jury immediately after your first court appearance

Judges Have a Preference for Police and Prosecution

Judges have a preference for the people who have charged you with a crime. Occasionally, a judge will have a streak of independence and do what is right, but it is more common for a judge to take the “safe route” and side with the District Attorney. There are multiple reasons judges side with the prosecution:

1. DA’s and Judges

As criminal defense lawyers, we are in the courtroom all the time. We know District Attorneys and judges often speak informally off the record. They see each other every day, so they get to know each other’s preferences. There is a sense of loyalty among judges and DAs (we see judges asking about prosecutor’s families and weekend plans in court).

2. Judges are Subject to Retention

Judges are subject to a retention vote. This means the public votes on whether or not they can keep their job. DAs, the police, and special interest groups are all able to publicly criticize judges, which affects public opinion. This creates an environment where a judge is looking to please District Attorneys, the police, and special interest groups (such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, victim’s associations, and domestic violence women’s groups) in order to keep their job.

3. Judges Have a Bias

Consider a judges job: They work on hundreds of cases a week. They are affected by the crimes they see on a daily basis and grow tired of people fighting the charges against them. Judges are confronted by many more people who are guilty than innocent. This means over time they begin to see everyone the same and make assumptions of guilt based on probability.

4. Judges Used to Be Prosecutors

Judges weren’t always judges. Many began their careers as District Attorney Prosecutors. All those years of prosecuting people cannot be erased once they become a judge. They have a “prosecution mentality” which permeates their decisions. We have even heard judges mistakenly refer to their office as the “DA’s office.”

5. Judges are Busy

Judges are busy people just like the rest of us. A jury trial takes at least double the time of a judge trial (also called a court or bench trial). Judges like to do things the quick way when they have a busy docket, which isn’t necessarily in the best interest of the defendant.

6. Judges are Paid by the Public

Keep in mind who pays judges and District Attorneys. Their income is from taxpayers in Colorado. Juries are not paid to do their job, so they are much less biased than judges.

Call Us Immediately If You’ve Been Charged with a Crime: You Need a Jury Trial Lawyer

If you have been charged with a crime and are considering whether to choose a judge or jury trial, don’t hesitate to contact one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys. The law is convoluted and confusing, so it is wise to work with people who have experience in the courtroom. We know how judges and District Attorneys in Larimer County think. We will guide you through each step of the process and create a strategy to get you the best outcome in your case.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Loveland, Fort Collins, or Estes Park and you’re trying to choose between a judge or jury trial, be smart, exercise your right to remain silent, and contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the O’Malley Law Office at 970-658-0007, or submit the “Get Help Now” form. Together, we can protect your future.