Courtroom dramas would have the public believe that every criminal and civil case leads to an explosive trial with twists and turns. The reality is that most cases are decided without ever going to trial. However, if a plaintiff in a civil case is unhappy with a settlement offer, or if a criminal defendant does not wish to accept a deal or enter a guilty plea, the next step is to move to trial.
While there has been a steady decline in the number of cases that go to court, it is still a possibility in situations where the parties cannot come to a satisfactory agreement. If you are facing a civil or criminal legal issue, you must have a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the trial process so you can make a fully informed decision.
Pros of Going to Trial
The idea of going to trial can be intimidating, but there are circumstances in which it is beneficial. It's important to work closely with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to determine whether the advantages of a trial are worth the additional time, effort, and expense.
Provides the Chance of a Jury
One of the primary advantages of going to trial is the potential opportunity to present your case in front of a jury. A knowledgeable and experienced attorney can build a compelling narrative that lays out the facts of your case and identifies why your claim or position is justified. During a personal injury trial, for example, your attorney will have the chance to explain in great detail:
- The nature and effects of your injuries
- Treatments, surgeries, and rehabilitation that you have undergone
- How the accident has negatively affected your quality of life
- Details about the events that resulted in your injury
Unlike when settling the case out of court, a jury trial allows your attorney to draw on the sympathy and compassion of your peers, which can ultimately lead to higher compensation.
Gives You More Time to Prepare
If you choose to go to trial rather than accept a settlement or plea bargain, it will give your legal team more time to prepare to present the case. It can take months or even years to go to trial in civil or criminal cases. During this period, your attorney can:
- Gather and analyze evidence
- Speak to witnesses
- Prepare a trial strategy
- Plan for witness testimony and cross-examination
This is an important opportunity to build a strong case before formal proceedings begin.
The Prosecution Would Be Held Responsible
The prosecutor has the burden of proof to find a defendant guilty in a criminal trial. This means that the prosecutor must prove the elements of a case beyond a reasonable doubt, which can be a challenging feat.
The defense attorney also may be able to have evidence suppressed due to police misconduct or procedure violations, which can help secure a better outcome for the defendant.
Higher Compensation Could Be Awarded
If your case goes to trial, it's possible that you could receive substantially higher compensation. This is because the attorney can present the full details of the case, and the jury or judge may award non-economic damages for pain and suffering, disfigurement, or effects on your quality of life.
Cons of Going to Trial
Despite the possible benefits of taking a case to trial, many people opt not to do so. This is no surprise considering that a typical trial is lengthy, costly, and stressful, potentially doing more harm than good.
The following are some of the disadvantages of going to trial.
Costs Could Be More
Although there is a chance for a more favorable outcome if you go to court, the process can also be much more expensive. Attorneys spend a significant amount of time preparing for trial and presenting cases in court, all of which must be compensated.
In criminal trials where the defendant is not using a public defender, the cost of a good attorney can be extremely high. You may also need to pay for expert testimony, causing the costs of your defense to rapidly accumulate.
Trial Can Be Unpredictable
It's impossible to predict how a judge and jury will perceive the rulings of law, so going to trial has a higher level of risk than a plea bargain or settling out of court. Plaintiffs in a civil case run the risk of walking away with nothing, while criminal defendants take the chance of receiving the maximum possible penalty for a crime.
A survey by the U.S. Department of Justice found that plaintiffs win around 60% of general civil trials. In other words, while there is a good chance that your case will be successful, a positive outcome is far from guaranteed.
In criminal cases, the odds of success are even lower. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, of the 2% of federal criminal defendants who go to trial in district court, more than 80% are found guilty.
Pre-Trial Procedures Can Be Long
Before a trial can begin, legal teams representing both parties must go through a series of steps, also known as pre-trial procedures. Depending on the type of case, these procedures might include:
- Filing a complaint in court
- Answering a complaint
- Conducting discovery
- Motion practice
- Trial preparation
Each procedure takes time, precision, and accuracy. This can draw out the resolution of your case and cause increased stress and anxiety for a more extended period. If you would prefer to put this experience behind you more quickly, going to trial may not be the best choice.
Get Legal Advice Before Taking Your Case to Trial
Deciding whether to take a case to trial is complex, which is why it's so essential that you seek sound legal advice from experienced professionals. Whether you are facing criminal charges or pursuing a civil claim, qualified attorneys can help you carefully weigh the pros and cons of going to court.
Contact McEdlrew Purtell to learn more about the legal process and whether it would be advantageous to take your case to trial.