What's My Best Chance? : Bench Trials, Jury Trials and Personal Characteristics of Offenders

Christine Tartaro, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
Christopher M. Sedelmaier, Rutgers University

ABSTRACT
Criminal defendants in the United States have a constitutional right to a trial. As a defendant, what are the risks and benefits of a jury trial as opposed to a bench trial? The small amount of existing literature on this subject has revealed mixed results, with some researchers arguing for the existence of a "jury penalty," meaning that defendants who use the courts' time and money for a jury trial will be punished more severely. Spohn (1992) reported the existence of a jury trial penalty and examined the effect of the penalty on defendants' of different races. Subsequent research has highlighted the importance of the interaction of race and age in sentencing decisions, even in states with sentencing guidelines. The current paper analyzes the differences in criminal justice processing for 7,175 offenders in Florida and Georgia. We will search for the existence of a jury trial penalty compared to the outcomes for bench trials and those who plead guilty. Additionally, we include race and age (separately, and as interaction variables) along with several legal and extralegal variables to determine whether defendants with different characteristics are treated differently based on their decision to seek a jury or bench trial.

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Updated 05/20/2006