If you’re about to go to trial, you may have a choice in who will decide your case. In criminal cases, there will almost always be a trial by jury because a trial by jury is a constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment. In civil cases, you may be able to choose whether you would like your case decided by a judge or a jury. How do you decide?
A bench trial is a case that is decided by a judge without a jury. A judge in a bench trial has two different roles. First, they will act as the finder of fact who determines the credibility of the evidence. Second, they will act as the legal expert that will rule on all legal issues that arise.
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Some cases need to be decided by a judge. These are cases that only involve questions of law or equity such as permanent injunctions, divorces, foreclosures, probate, and municipal court hearings. The cases that can typically be decided by either a judge or a jury include cases that involve determining how much money to award to an injured party.
Bench trials are usually the preferred type of trial for parties that are generally unliked by the public such as insurance companies, homeowners associations, or unpopular political parties. Some parties will also prefer a bench trial if there are complicated issues that they think will confuse a jury. Other parties will opt for a bench trial if they feel that the fact pattern is offensive or embarrassing and the party is scared that the jury will be swayed.
Bench trials also tend to take less time than jury trials and are sometimes preferred by litigants who require a speedy resolution to a legal issue.
Bench trials generally tend to have outcomes that are more favorable to defendants, so defense attorneys often recommend bench trials to their clients. Choosing to have a judge act as the fact finder in your trial is very important decision that should be discussed with an attorney.
For most plaintiffs, a trial by jury is a better choice. Juries tend to be more sympathetic to plaintiffs and be swayed by their emotions. Juries are known for awarding larger verdicts than judges. The largest verdicts in United States history have come from jury trials.
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Juries also tend to be easier audiences than judges. Juries are interested in compelling stories and may be swayed by the emotional appeal of a case. Juries may render a totally different verdict than a judge because they are looking at the case as a normal lay person, instead of as a trained legal professional.
However, jury trials can also offer additional challenges. Jury trials involve jury selection, knowing how to address a jury, and the time-consuming process of explaining the details of complex cases.
Get Legal Advice First
It’s very important to speak with an experienced trial attorney before choosing between a jury or bench trial. Your attorney will go over the pros and cons of each type of trial for your particular case and advise you of the best course of action.
If you would like to speak to an experienced attorney about your case, contact Anthem Injury Lawyers at (702) 857-6000.