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New York Jury Trials in Local Criminal Courts (Should you have a jury or bench trial?)

While some New York Criminal Attorneys will waive your right to a jury trial in a New York local justice court, instead opting for a trial before the judge, at Tilem & Campbell, we think that is usually a mistake. At Tilem & Campbell, our policy is that if our client is charged with a misdemeanor and the People (the prosecution) will not reduce the charge below a misdemeanor, we often advise our clients to choose a jury trial. Why? Unfortunately, at the local court level in New York, far too many Judges work hand-in-hand with the prosecution to ensure a defendant’s conviction. That is the simple truth.

Judges at the local level in New York need not be attorneys and many are not. Whether they are attorneys or not, far too many local court judges simply have no apparent understanding about the defendant’s presumption of innocence and the People’s burden to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In many small villages and towns in New York, the police station and Courthouse are in the same building. The local police and the Judge share the same parking lot, ride the elevator together and see each other regularly in the building. Therefore, only on the rarest occasion will a Judge at the local court level find that a police officer lacked probable cause at a suppression hearing or that an accusatory instrument is insufficient or otherwise rule in a defendant’s favor on a meaningful issue. It would be very hard for the same judge that sees that police officer in the building to now decide that he didn’t tell the truth at your trial.

Trials before judges in local criminal courts are far too often nothing more that an exercise in futility. The defendant’s guilt is a foregone conclusion. Do you really think a local judge is going to go against the local police and prosecutor that he or she must deal with on a regular basis?

For a local court judge to rule against the prosecution, the prosecution’s case must implode. And even when the prosecution’s case does implode, many times a local judge will bend over backwards to rationalize and legitimize law enforcement and prosecutorial misconduct. If your criminal case in a local justice court is proceeding to trial, you should seriously consider a jury trial and you should retain counsel who is experienced with jury trials.