Bench Trial vs. Jury Trial: What’s the Difference?

Two Trials, Same Goal

You may have watched TV shows or movies portraying dramatic trials in which a powerful attorney stands in front of a jury and presents captivating, compelling evidence that proves their client’s innocence. To add, spectators in the room react by gasping, crying or expressing disapproval. These incidents can happen in real life, but many times, criminal court proceedings aren’t as exaggerated as you may think.

A trial is a structured process where the facts of a case are presented to a jury, and they decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charge offered, according to the US Department of Justice. However, this definition only applies to jury trials, not bench trials.

You may be surprised to learn that there are two types of trials: Jury and bench.A defendant can request a trial by jury, which you’ve likely seen on TV, or a trial by a judge (also called a bench trial).

Bench & Jury Trials

The American Bar Association outlines the differences between a bench and jury trial:

Bench trial

  • In a bench trial, the ultimate decision-maker is the judge
  • There is significant opportunity to present arguments throughout the pretrial proceedings
  • You must be conscious about not narrowing the scope of your arguments too early because there’s no going back
  • A judge may be a little more lenient with the rules of evidence
  • Bench trials allow both parties to “peek behind the curtain”
    • For example, within an opinion, the judge may: Provide a summary of what arguments were most persuasive during a trial, identify parties’ specific conduct that didn’t sit well with the court, provide insight on preferences regarding motions practice, and identify legal authority that may not have been considered otherwise.

Jury trial

  • In a jury trial, the ultimate decision-maker is the jury
  • Jurors generally don’t know the parties’ pretrial positions, theories or actions
  • A juror may learn little to nothing about a case before trial
  • You cannot be certain about the dynamics of the jury or the outcome of a trial
  • Compelling storytelling is a key factor in influencing jurors’ opinion, whereas a judge is less likely to submit to emotional bias and rather utilize their knowledge of the law

At White Law PLLC, our Okemos attorneys have handled countless criminal and civil cases involving both bench and jury trials. Thus, we obtain extensive understanding of the benefits, disadvantages and impacts of each, allowing us to make well-informed decisions on our clients’ behalves.

When you retain our lawyers, we can determine which path is best for you, and guide you every step of the way. Contact us at (517) 316-1195 today! We are available 24/7.

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