What is the difference between a bench trial and a jury trial in Florida?
Answer: Okay, so the bench trial in Florida is also known as a nonjury trial, and typically you see this with very minor misdemeanor cases where an individual has no prior history. The state is certifying a withhold of adjudication, and the individual wants to take a chance in front of a judge because there’s some evidence that they think the judge would follow the law and therefore they would be found not guilty. That’s one scenario in Florida where you see nonjury trials. Minor misdemeanor cases. It’s very rarely, if ever, will you ever see it with a felony case. I don’t think I’ve ever seen situation where someone tried a nonjury trial in a felony case. You also see it in traffic court in Florida.
In traffic court in Florida where you received a speeding ticked or a careless driving ticket you do not have a right to a jury trial, you have a right to a nonjury trial—meaning it’s a judge up at the front in a robe, there’s a prosecutor or a cop on one side of the room and then a defendant is sitting at counsel’s table or the other opposing podium and the judge listens to the evidence and makes a decision on whether or not either a crime or ticket was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a nonjury trial.
A jury trial would be in a misdemeanor case. Most misdemeanor cases—driving under the influence, possession charges—where somebody is charged with a crime, the prosecutor thinks they can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and they decide to try the case to a jury. Why would you go nonjury on a criminal case? I can only tell you that that’s a very big risk depending on the evidence. If it’s a situation in a DUI case potentially, we’ve gone to a nonjury trial where we knew the state was not going to be able to prove the identity of the driver, so we agreed with the state to do a nonjury trial and in that particular case our client was found not guilty because the judge realized there was no real witness in the DUI case. But it’s a little bit of a risk. It very rarely happens in the criminal case where someone’s going to go to nonjury trial unless it’s a minor second-degree misdemeanor charge for the most part.