Jury Trial Criminal Lawyer, Pittsburgh PA
When an individual is charged with a criminal offense in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania he or she can plead guilty to all of the charges, plead guilty to some of the charges or reduced charges (plea bargaining), or plead not-guilty and contest the charges at a criminal trial.
In instances when a plea is not offered or a plea that is acceptable to both sides cannot be reached, the defendant can choose to be represented by a criminal trial lawyer who will argue his or her defense at trial.
Criminal Jury Trials and Bench Trials
There are two types of criminal trials in PA: Bench Trials (outcome decided by a judge) and Jury Trials (outcome decided by 12 jurors). Each has its own intricacies and requires a unique legal strategy. We will discuss jury trials and why it is important to be defended by a lawyer with considerable jury trial experience.
Who Has the Right to a Jury Trial for Criminal Charges in PA?
The right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Pa. Const. art. I, §§ 6, 9 extends to a defendant who is charged with one or more “serious” offenses which carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment exceeding six months (Commonwealth v. Langley, 2016 PA Super 179, 145 A.3d 757).
“Serious offenses” carry a sentence of more than six months imprisonment, and “petty offenses” carry a maximum sentence of less than 6 months.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that when a defendant is charged with multiple “petty” offenses which upon conviction could result in a sentence greater than 6 months, this potential aggregate sentence is NOT the measurement for determining whether a jury trial right exists. Instead, the measurement is whether any of the individual charges carry a maximum sentence that exceeds 6 months (Commonwealth v. McMullen, 599 Pa. 435, 440, 961 A.2d 842, 845 (2008)).
Why it is Important to Hire a Criminal Lawyer with Extensive Jury Trial Experience
“The Sixth Amendment provides that those “accused” of a “crime” have the right to a trial “by an impartial jury.” This right, in conjunction with the Due Process Clause, requires that each element of a crime be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The substance and scope of this right depend upon the proper designation of the facts that are elements of the crime. Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99, 99, 133 S. Ct. 2151, 2152, 186 L.Ed.2d 314, 314 (2013)”
In other words individuals who wish to contest their charges at trial are afforded certain rights. Below are some of the specific duties, tasks and challenges a criminal trial attorney should be experienced with in order to protect these rights and competently defend his or her client.
Selecting an “Impartial Jury”
Because a panel of 12 jurors will decide whether a defendant is guilty or not-guilty, obtaining an “impartial jury” is absolutely essential in order to obtain a fair and unbiased outcome. Part of the the jury selection process is known as voir dire, which involves lengthy questioning of the prospective jury panel in order to expose and remove jurors that could be biased toward convicting (or freeing) the defendant.
Examples of Biased Jurors
For example, a juror may have a preconceived idea that if someone if charged with a crime then they are guilty of that crime; that police do not lie; that children do not lie; that the defendant is guilty because he looks guilty or because of his or her race or religion; or that the defendant is guilty if he or she does not testify.
The Importance of Jury Selection Cannot Be Overstated
Jury selection is an art and is the foundation of a criminal trial. Our Pittsburgh trial attorneys believe and understand this. As tedious and time-consuming as this process can be, we leave no stone unturned during this process because doing so could impair the trial from the start.
Raising Reasonable Doubt for the Jury
As a judge will state to the jury, a defendant is presumed innocent and the burden of proving his guilt rests upon the prosecution. A defendant has a constitutional right to not testify at trial and can be found not-guilty even while presenting no evidence of his own.
For a defendant to be convicted (found guilty) by a jury at trial, his or her guilt must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” More specifically, the prosecution must prove each element (e.g., “intentional” or “recklessly” ) of a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
Although the burden of proof rests upon the prosecution, a skilled trial attorney will create a strategy to identify, produce and raise reasonable doubt to the jury panel.
Creating and Presenting Reasonable Doubt to the Jury
Our criminal trial attorneys look for evidentiary inconsistencies, contradictions and impossibilities to exploit in the prosecution’s case. We also build our own case using physical evidence, testimony and character evidence. In doing so our lawyers demonstrate potential reasonable doubt for the jurors’ consideration.
Whereas judges in bench trials typically decide cases in a more technical manner, the 12 jurors who will decide the defendant’s fate tend to more so use their life experiences and common sense. Knowing this, our criminal trial lawyers work hard not only to expose evidence that creates reasonable doubt, but to also present this evidence to the jury in an organized, meaningful and relatable manner.
Facing a Criminal Trial in PA? Contact Shrager Defense Attorneys Today
Ample time is required to prepare your defense. Far in advance to any trial our defense lawyers issue subpoenas and file motions to obtain potentially exculpatory evidence that the prosecution may not provide. We then exhaustively analyze all evidence.
Our PA trial attorneys have decades of experience trying tough criminal cases throughout Western Pennsylvania and are ready to help you.