Baltimore City Police Officer Edward M. Nero decided to stand trial before a judge, rather than a jury. The bench trial will begin Thursday morning in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.
Officer Nero is one of three bicycle officers involved in Freddie Gray’s initial detention and arrest. Officer Nero plead not guilty to misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
Bench trial or jury trial
By selecting a bench trial, Officer Nero fate will be decide by a single judge, and not a panel of 12 Baltimore City jurors.
A bench trial is a trial before judge. A jury trial is a trial before a jury.
Really, the only difference is that one person decides your guilty or innocence versus a panel of 12 people. The rules of evidence and procedure are the same, and the standard of proof is still beyond a reasonable doubt.
So, why might a defendant choose a bench trial or a jury trial.
First, a bench trial may be a quicker path to a verdict. There is no jury selection, which can take days, or weeks in some cases.
Second, if your case is about legal arguments and points, then you may want to avoid the emotional decision making of a jury.
The decision to choose a bench trial or jury trial is up to the defendant. The State’s Attorney’s Office has no say in the decision.
Here, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office likely would prefer a jury trial, because of the intense emotional response to the Freddie Gray incident back in April 2015.
Officer Nero likely chose a bench trial because a judge may be better able to handle the case’s technical legal questions. Especially, now that the State’s Attorney’s Office is making the case about whether or not Freddie Gray’s arrest was legal.
Still it’s risky to choose a bench trial and give up the odds of making the State convince all 12 jurors of your guilt.
Additionally, a defendant gives up several appeal issues when they choose a bench trial. For example, Officer Nero will not be able to challenge how the jury was picked, or what instructions were given before jury deliberations.
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