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Bench Trial vs Jury Trial: Important Things You Need To Know

Bench Trial vs Jury Trial - What Is A Bench Trial - What Is A Jury Trial

What is the difference between a bench trial vs jury trial?

In this article, you’ll learn about:

  • what happens at a bench trial and jury trial
  • why you should pick one over the other
  • which one favors the defendant more
  • the most likely outcomes from each one
  • how much each one costs and how long they take

… and much more.

Let’s dig in.

Table of Contents

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Introduction Of Bench Trial vs Jury Trial

This section will cover:

  • what is a bench trial
  • what is a jury trial
  • how do they compare to each other

What Is A Bench Trial?

In a bench trial, the “bench” is the judge or panel of judges who preside over the trial.

They are responsible for:

  • hearing the evidence and legal arguments from both sides
  • deciding the facts of the criminal case
  • examining the evidence
  • rendering a decision (determining the defendant’s guilt)

Bench trials get used when:

  • parties waive their rights to a jury trial to have their case heard by a judge (the bench)
  • the courts decide this is the most efficient trial for the case
  • a federal agency requires a bench trial (i.e., US Tax Courts, SEC, Patent and Trademarks)

Someone might waive their rights to a jury trial and opt for a bench trial if they think:

  • a judge is better equipped to handle the complexities of their case
  • a bench trial will conclude their case faster than a trial by jury
  • the judge is likely to rule in their favor on legal issues

A bench trial is the default type of trial for the justice system.

What Is A Jury Trial?

In a jury trial, the jurors are the judge or panel of judges who preside over the trial.

They are responsible for:

  • hearing the evidence and legal arguments from both sides
  • deciding the facts of the criminal case
  • examining the evidence
  • rendering a unanimous decision (determining the defendant’s guilt)

A unanimous decision means that EVERY juror agrees on the verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.

When ALL jurors don’t agree:

  • it’s a hung jury and a mistrial is declared
  • the trial will restart with a new jury selection

Jury trials get used when:

  • parties agree to a jury trial
  • there is a broad range of evidence
  • the parties involved want to spend less time in court

Jury trials are only used when both parties agree to use a trial by jury.

Otherwise, your case will default to a bench trial.

Before the trial starts, the judge will provide the jurors with jury instructions.

Similarities Between A Bench Trial And Jury Trial

We’re going to cover a lot of differences between the two.

But what are things that remain the same between either one?

Both bench trial and jury trial processes have:

  • Burden of Proof: Plaintiff must prove the case is true by providing evidence & argument.
  • Rules of Evidence: testimonies and exhibits presented by each side to prove claims.
  • Witnesses: either side can call witnesses to testify in support of claims.
  • Opening Statements: attorneys explain the case & what they aim to prove.
  • Cross-Examination: both sides can question witnesses from the other side.
  • Closing Arguments: attorneys make final arguments after all evidence is presented.
  • Appeal: either side can appeal if not happy with the outcome.

Statistics On Bench Trials vs Jury Trials

Here are some statistics on the two types of trials.

These can help you make a more informed decision on which one to pursue.

Either one can get used for all types of cases, like:

  • misdemeanor or felony charges
  • criminal cases (i.e., murder, vehicular manslaughter, drug trafficking, DUI, etc.)
  • civil lawsuits (i.e., personal injury, divorce, employment, etc.)

Bench Trial Statistics

  • 5%-10% of criminal trials are bench trials.
  • In civil cases, bench trials are used in approximately 8-15% of cases.
  • In federal bench trials, the verdict is in the defendant’s favor in ~15% of cases.
  • In state bench trials, the verdict is in the defendant’s favor in ~20% of cases.
  • In civil cases, bench trials take an average of 45 days to resolve.
  • In criminal cases, bench trials take an average of 20 days to resolve.
  • Judges have ruled in favor of the plaintiff in approximately 33% of cases.
  • Judges have ruled in favor of the defendant in approximately 44% of cases.
  • Judges have ruled in favor of both parties in approximately 23% of cases.

Jury Trial Statistics

  • 12% of all criminal cases go to trial before a jury.
  • The average length of a jury trial is several months.
  • The average number of jurors in a criminal case is 12.
  • The average number of jurors in a civil case is 6.
  • ~80% of jury verdicts are in favor of the prosecution.
  • The average jury deliberation time is 2.5 hours.
  • ~80% of jury trials result in a guilty verdict.
  • The average amount of time it takes to select a jury is 1.5 days.
  • The average cost of a jury trial is $2,000.
  • Jury trials are held in just over 1% of all civil cases.

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How A Bench Trial Compares To A Jury Trial

This section covers the advantages and disadvantages of both types of trials.

Bench Trials Advantages And Disadvantages

Here are 10 advantages and disadvantages of having a bench trial.

Advantages Of A Bench Trial

Some advantages of a bench trial are:

  • Simplified process: fewer rules and less paperwork.
  • More flexibility: customizable to fit the specific case.
  • Expedited: bench trials move more quickly than jury trials.
  • Lower costs: lower cost than a jury trial.
  • Easier to manage: no jury selection process.
  • Improved efficiency: judges tend to move cases along faster.
  • More privacy: no public jury to hear sensitive evidence.
  • Less intimidating: less intimidating for witnesses to testify in a courtroom.
  • Easier to appeal: easier to appeal a bench trial due to the lack of a jury.
  • Higher chance of favorable outcome: judges are more likely to rule in favor of parties.
  • Plea bargains: judges are more likely to approve plea bargains than jurors.

Disadvantages Of A Bench Trial

Some disadvantages of a bench trial are:

  • Lack of discovery: parties are unable to ask questions of witnesses & obtain evidence.
  • Limited appeal: parties must live with the judge’s decision.
  • No jury: parties not able to make a case to a jury.
  • Limited cross-examination: parties are not able to ask as many questions.
  • More formal: parties may not be able to relax & be themselves.
  • Unfamiliar judge: parties are not able to pick a judge they know.
  • Fewer motions: parties are not able to present many motions.
  • Lack of privacy: trial is open to the public.
  • Limited witnesses: parties are not able to hear from all witnesses.
  • Unfamiliar rules: parties may not be used to court procedures.

Jury Trials Advantages And Disadvantages

Here are 10 advantages and disadvantages of having a jury trial.

Advantages Of Trial By Jury

Some advantages of a jury trial are:

  • Ensures fairness: jury trial ensures all people are treated fairly and given an equal opportunity for justice.
  • Prevents bias: jurors are selected randomly to prevent any bias from the court.
  • Limits power: jury trial limits the power of the judge, allowing for a more balanced decision.
  • Public opinion: jury trial allows for public opinion to be taken into account.
  • Discretion: jury trial allows for more discretion in decision-making than a judge alone.
  • Transparency: jury trial allows for greater transparency as all proceedings are open to the public.
  • Jury deliberation: jury trial allows for more time to consider the evidence.
  • Accessibility: jury trial allows more citizens to participate in the justice system.
  • Education: jury trial provides an educational opportunity for those involved.
  • Jury nullification: jury trial allows jurors to nullify a law if they disagree with it.

Disadvantages Of A Jury Trial

Some advantages of a jury trial are:

  • Costly: jury trials are expensive to hold.
  • Time-Consuming: can take days or weeks to resolve.
  • Juror bias: jurors may bring prejudices to the trial.
  • Uninformed Decisions: lacking legal expertise, jurors may make wrong decisions.
  • Limited Evidence: jurors are only allowed to consider evidence presented in court.
  • Unpredictable Outcomes: verdicts are unpredictable, even if the evidence is strong.
  • Complex Laws: jurors may have difficulty understanding complex legal matters.
  • Unrepresentative Jury: jury members may not reflect the diversity of the population.
  • Jury Intimidation: parties may attempt to influence jurors.

Similarities Between Jury Trials And Bench Trials

This section looks at the similarities in:

  • the processes for each one
  • the objectives of each one
  • the outcomes for each one

The Processes Of Each

The process of a bench trial is:

  1. Presenting evidence: The plaintiff and defendant present evidence to the judge.
  2. Evidence Evaluation: The judge reviews the evidence and decides if it meets the rules of evidence.
  3. Judge’s Decision: Based on the evidence, the judge will make a decision on the case.
  4. Judge’s Verdict: The judge will issue a verdict on the case.
  5. The Judgment: The court will enter a judgment based on the verdict.

The process of a jury trial is:

  1. Jury Selection: Jurors are chosen from a pool of potential jurors via “voir dire.”
  2. Opening Statements: Lawyers summarize the case for the jury.
  3. Witness Testimony: Witnesses provide their evidence in court.
  4. Closing Arguments: Lawyers present their interpretations of the evidence.
  5. Jury Deliberations: The jury discusses and reaches a verdict.
  6. Verdict: The jury announces its decision in court.

The Objectives Of Each

Both types of trials have the same objectives.

They are set up to:

  • decide if a criminal defendant is innocent or guilty of a crime
  • listen to arguments from both sides of a criminal case
  • make a fair decision based on evidence and criminal laws
  • determine if the criminal laws have been applied properly
  • make sure the accused person’s rights are protected

The Outcome Of Each

The outcome of each type of trial is as follows:

  • the judge or jury reaches a verdict; guilty or not guilty
  • the judge reads the verdict and decides the outcome
  • the judge provides the defendant with the sentence, if guilty
  • the criminal defendant can appeal the court’s decision

Getting Your Criminal Charges Dropped

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Our criminal defense attorneys have the experience you need to defend your rights.

This way, you don’t:

  • get wrongfully convicted of criminal activity
  • spend years in jail needlessly
  • not see your family or loved ones for potentially years
  • get wrongfully accused of a serious crime by police officers

You deserve a fair trial in the criminal justice system.

Our law firm can provide you with that.

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