A police officer was cleared during a bench trial of all wrongdoing after the daughter of a former girlfriend accused him of inappropriately touching her. A Cook County judge found the officer not guilty. After the charges surfaced, the officer was “de-deputized” and placed on administrative leave without pay. A case to have the officer fired is still pending.
What is a Bench Trial?
A bench trial is a trial that is heard by a professional jurist as opposed to a jury of your peers. Most criminal defendants choose to avoid bench trials preferring to instead roll the dice with the public. However, police officers tend to choose bench trials, especially nowadays, when public sentiment toward police is at an all-time low. Choosing to have your case heard by a judge is an option when you think a professional jurist would be more likely to rule in your favor than a jury of your peers.
When to Choose a Bench Trial
Certain crimes so enrage the public’s sense of decency, that the very accusation can make it difficult for the defendant to get a fair trial. In cases where a defendant is facing charges similar to child molestation but has a legitimate defense, the defendant, even one who is not a police officer, may choose to have the case heard by a judge.
The general rule of thumb is that judges tend to be more impartial. But more impartiality does not necessarily benefit all defendants. It benefits defendants who are facing certain crimes but have a legally sound defense to the charges.
The fact is that most criminal defendants charged with most crimes will not benefit from a bench trial. Bench trials are only recommended in a small fraction of cases, even those involving serious crimes like child molestation. Police officers, however, tend to believe that judges act with more impartiality and are less swayed by emotional concerns such as the desire to hold those in authority accountable for their transgressions.
Why Did This Case Fail?
Police investigated three incidents involving one girl—the officer’s former ex-girlfriend’s daughter. The complainant was either the girl or someone in close proximity to the girl, but all of the accusations had a single source. Prosecutors were not convinced in two of the three instances of alleged abuse to pursue charges against the police officer. However, police tend to pursue sex crime charges so long as they have a witness willing to testify against the defendant.
In this case, the judge was forced to consider the credibility of that witness against the totality of the evidence against the officer. Had there been a second victim willing to come forward, the trial would have gone the other way.
Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you have been charged with a serious crime in the Chicago area, call the Chicago criminal defense attorney David Freidberg at (312) 560-7100 to discuss your case and allow us to begin building your defense immediately.