Melchert-Dinkel removes the wild card factor from trial by opting for judge over jury

Jury trials are like “riding a ship into a storm,” because they are much less predictable than bench trials.

French criminal lawyer, university professor and politician Robert Badniter

William Melchert-Dinkel’s decision to choose a judge to determine his guilt or innocence (otherwise know as a bench trial), over having his case heard before a jury of his own peers is a tesitmony to the fact that public sentiment is not likely to be sympathetic to his cause.

Add into the equation, and this is according to one legal expert, that sentences tend to be longer when a jury convicts, the decision to present his case before a judge would seem to be a prudent one.  In short, there is little if any uncertainty given the nature of the crimes for which the former nurse from Faribault stands accused, that a jury conviction would be a very real possibility.  Yes, it could be overturned on appeal to a higher court as jury’s such as in the case of OJ Simpson, on occassion demonstrate a propensity (at least more than a judge) to be influenced by circumstances as much as if not more than the technicalities of the law.

But is a bench trial really any more likely to render a favorable verdict in those cases where public sentiment is heavily in favor of a guilty verdict?  It depends.

One thing is certain, this opens up the door to any combination of variables whether Melchert-Dinkel is found to be guilty or innocent. 

For starters, and unlike a guilty verdict being reached by a jury, if a judge finds you guilty, he or she has discretion when sentencing to suspend jail time.  Interesting thought given the converging complexities of the Melchert-Dinkel case which include variables such as right to die legislation, freedom of speech and the differences between crimes in the physical versus virtual worlds.

In essence, a judge who is faced with an apparent conflict between the letter of the law and public sentiments might appease both (and in the process defer making new law to another trial in another jurisdiction), by finding Melchert-Dinkel guilty but suspending his sentence. 

Once again the above is an exercise in pure, but nontheless interesting, speculative musings.  Over the next week, I will delve more deeply into the differences between a trial by jury and a bench trial focusing on the various elements of each one, and what they might mean in terms of either a guilty or innocent verdict in the Melchert-Dinkel trial.

Stay tuned!

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