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Understanding Criminal Procedure and Bench Trials in South Carolina

What is a Bench Trial in a Criminal Case in South Carolina?

In a bench trial, a judge hears the evidence, determines the facts and any legal issues that arise, and decides whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty. There is no jury involved in a bench trial. 

The same procedural and evidentiary rules apply to bench trials and jury trials. And in both cases, the prosecution must prove the charge against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. In a jury trial, the jurors decide whether the prosecution has done this whereas, in a bench trial, this is the role of the judge. 

A bench trial is most commonly used in Magistrate or Municipal Court for lower level offenses. For more serious offenses in General Sessions Court, a jury trial is the standard practice.

If you're facing criminal charges in South Carolina, you need an attorney who understands the law and who can craft your defense. Call L. Sherril Law today at (803) 833-0008 to schedule a consultation to learn more. 

What are the Benefits of a Bench Trial in South Carolina?

There are several advantages to a bench trial, depending on the circumstances of a case.  

More efficient

Bench trials generally lead to a quicker resolution. This is because there is no jury selection process and the court doesn't have to explain the relevant law to a jury. A bench trial flows more smoothly, as a judge can discuss any issues with the parties as they arise, rather than sending the jury out each time. 

More neutral decision maker

A defendant may elect for a bench trial because judges can apply the law in a more neutral, dispassionate way. Given their professional experience, they can set aside any potential biases. 

A judge can also set aside any potentially damaging, inadmissible information that may arise during a trial. It can be more difficult for jurors to disregard this information once they have heard it, even when they're told to do so. 

More predictable

Bench trials are also considered more predictable. The parties can understand a judge's position on a legal issue before the trial starts based on previous rulings. This is especially the case if the same judge hears and decides any pretrial motions, as well as the trial. In comparison, the only opportunity to gauge a juror's position is during voir dire. 

Complex legal arguments

Finally, a bench trial may be preferable where a case involves technical legal arguments. A judge has expert knowledge of the law and can understand and apply complex legal concepts. A jury in the same case may find it more challenging to do so. 

How a Criminal Defense Attorney in South Carolina Can Help You

These are just some factors you may consider when deciding to have a bench trial over a jury trial in lower level court. But there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Deciding whether to waive your constitutional right to a jury trial is a nuanced issue and there are many complex considerations to take into account. 

Before deciding, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney here at L. Sherril Law. She can identify the relevant factors such as the legal issues, potential defenses, and defense strategy so you can make the best tactical decision in your case. Fill out an online submission form or call us at (803) 833-0008 for a consultation.

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