From 1962 to 2013 the percentage of civil court cases determined by a jury trial declined from 5.5% to 0.8%.
This shift is partly due to an increase in plea deals, but there is also a shift to have trials determined by a bench trial vs a jury trial.
You are probably familiar with a jury trial via your favorite tv show or the news, but what exactly is a bench trial?
Keep reading to find out more about bench trials and their benefits!
What is a Bench Trial?
In simple terms, a bench trial is a trial tried by a judge instead of a jury. In a trial without a jury, not only does the judge determine sentencing, they also determine guilt or innocence.
Most civil court cases that go to trial are determined by bench trials. Criminal cases are always determined by jury unless a specific request is made and granted.
What Happens During a Bench Trial?
A bench trial proceeds the same way a jury trial would.
There are opening arguments and each side gets to present their evidence and witnesses. Prosection and defense still cross-examine each other’s witnesses. Closing arguments are made when both sides have done all they can do.
Pros of Bench Trials
There are general aspects of bench trials that can work in favor of either the defense or offense.
These benefits can help you decide whether it’s better to settle or go to trial.
Without the process of jury selection, bench trials tend to be faster. Bench trials are easier to schedule and generally get resolved more quickly.
The ins and outs of the legal process are often lost on a jury. When you have a bench trial it can work in your favor if relying on a technicality in the law.
Judges understand these technicalities and can make more nuanced decisions when your case needs to rely on technicalities.
Know the Judge Better Than a Jury
Knowing the minds of 6 or 12 people you’ve never met is a lot harder than knowing the mind of a judge.
In a bench trial, you know who will hear your case beforehand. Researching the judge’s past decisions can help your legal counsel build a successful case.
While defense lawyers sometimes rely on appealing to the emotion of the jury rather than their understanding of the law, the lack of emotion can still benefit either side.
This benefit sits side by side with a judge being able to understand technicalities in a case. If a judge is able to be dispassionate then there is no room to sway the judge with things from your past or character flaws that might affect a jury’s viewpoint.
Bench Trials Can Be a Good Thing
The benefits of a bench trial are clear. They save time and money. Having a bench trial vs a jury trial can help determine a case based on law instead of emotion.
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