Just last week, Nicholas Godejohn, the man accused of killing Dee Dee Blanchard along with his girlfriend Gypsy Blanchard, withdrew his waiver of jury trial. Previously, he had waived his right to a jury trial and elected to have a bench trial. He changed his mind and the Court allowed him to renew his demand for a jury. This is a unique turn of events, and one that the local CBS affiliate, KOLR10, took notice of and did a story on. Springfield, Mo. criminal defense attorney Adam Woody was interviewed to provide insight into the difference between a bench and jury trial.
Essentially, a jury trial in Missouri is where 12 citizens from the community hear the evidence and decide the factual issues. They then must agree unanimously whether or not the State proves their allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Conversely, a bench trial is where the judge and the judge alone hears the evidence and makes the same factual determinations. The judge in that situation has two roles: decides which evidence comes in at trial, and decides whether the State proves its case. The finding of the judge in that situation has the same force and effect of a jury verdict.
There are a variety of considerations to take into account when determining whether to waive a jury trial. Sometimes, overly emotional cases are better to be heard by a judge and judge alone, but again, that depends upon whether there are factual issues that would be better determined by a jury. There is no magic formula, and as criminal defense attorneys, we must simply make our recommendations to our clients on a case by case basis. Clearly, the attorneys for Mr. Godejohn made their decision that a jury trial is in his best interest and he agreed. That trial is set to commence in December of this year.