The U.S. court system has two different types of trials: bench trials and jury trials. Knowing the differences between the two, and the benefits and drawbacks of each, is an important part of preparing an effective trial strategy when faced with legal matters.
A bench trial takes place in front of a judge only; there is no jury involved. The judge is both the finder of fact and ruler on matters of law and procedure. This means that the judge decides the credibility of the evidence presented at trial and also decides what happens at the trial according to laws and rules of procedure.
A bench trial can be beneficial when people want a speedy resolution to a legal matter. Bench trials usually take less time than jury trials because the attorneys do not need to go through the jury selection and instruction process. Bench trials also tend to be slightly less formal than jury trials. A bench trial may also be useful in particularly complex cases that a jury might not understand.
The drawback to a bench trial is that there is only one finder of fact, so there is not the opportunity that exists in jury trials for at least one person to agree with a given side.
In a jury trial, a jury composed of members of the community is present at the trial to act as the finder of fact. The jury listens to the evidence that each side presents during the trial and renders a verdict based on how persuasive each side's evidence is. The judge handles questions of law and procedure during a jury trial, such as addressing attorneys' objections to questions or evidence or ruling on motions that the attorneys make.
The benefit of a jury trial is juries do not need to answer to anyone for the decisions they make, whereas judges may be influenced by the fact that they face re-election or review from the governor to keep their jobs.
The drawbacks to jury trials are that they are time-consuming and jurors may not always follow the law, instead rendering verdicts based on emotions.
Consult an Attorney
Choosing a bench or jury trial is just one of many decisions a person dealing with a lawsuit must make. If you are facing a lawsuit, talk to an accomplished litigator who can discuss your situation with you and advise you of the steps you should take to resolve the matter in the best possible way.