Although I stated in a previous post/rant about magistrate court in West Virginia that I do everything in my power to prevent having a bench trial in magistrate court (rather than a jury trial), I was forced yesterday to try a case in magistrate court.
The reason I was forced was this: my client initially requested a jury trial, but the court was dragging it’s feet in scheduling one and she wanted to get the matter over with. Against my advice she requested a bench trial instead. The good news was that most of the State’s witnesses did not show up, so I got two of the three charges dismissed. The bad news was that the officer could still testify to one charge. So we went for it.
We didn’t even get through the first witness’ testimony. The prosecutor objected to one of my questions on cross examination. As he was arguing his objection, the magistrate made the final ruling in the case. I was shocked. I hadn’t even had the opportunity to finish my cross examination, or the opportunity to call any witnesses, or the opportunity to have a closing statement, or the opportunity to discuss the case law. I think the prosecutor was dumbfounded as well.
Moral of the story? Request a jury trial. Unless of course, you want to be convicted.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.