Is Trial By Jury A Better Choice Than Trial By Judge?

Is Trial By Jury A Better Choice Than Trial By Judge?

When going through a civil lawsuit, one may have to make the decision of whether or not to have a trial by jury or a trial by judge (“bench” trial). This decision is difficult for any parties involved in a case.

Benefits Of A Bench Trial

A bench trial consists of a judge operating as both the moderator of the trial and as the person who reaches a verdict. In a bench trial, the judge will conduct the rules of court and also decide whether any compensation should be awarded to a plaintiff in a lawsuit. Some cases must be bench trials, such as:

  • Divorces
  • Child custody cases
  • Foreclosures
  • Other cases involving specific legal questions or questions of equity

It might be advantageous to have a bench trial if you are representing yourself in court because you will evade the intricacies and stress of making an opening statement, going through jury selection, and paying any deposition fees. It might also be a wise decision to choose a bench trial because the judge will most likely be more lenient on the rules of the court without the presence of a jury. This basically means the trial will be less strict, and you will not have to memorize complex court rules or all the evidence for the trial. A judge might dismiss evidence from the opposing side that could be harmful to your case, but a jury still hears that evidence and may still consider it while coming to a conclusion.

Bench trials might also be beneficial for:

  • Complicated cases that may confuse a jury.
  • Cases for largely unpopular or unliked parties such as a large corporation. A jury might have preconceived notions of the unliked party that could influence their verdict.
  • Defendants. Bench trials typically have better outcomes for defendants, so attorneys will typically suggest this to clients. The defendant will not have to present in front of a jury that may be inclined to be sympathetic toward the victim, or the one suing. A trial in front of a jury could possibly cause the defendant to pay more in compensation than he or she would in a bench trial.

Benefits Of A Trial By Jury

Trials by jury are typically chosen for the benefit of the plaintiff, or the party who is suing. Juries tend to be more sympathetic to plaintiffs, especially if the plaintiff suffered injuries at the hands of the defendant. While a judge understands all the rules of court and how the evidence provides proof of something, the jury might not. Juries make verdicts based off a “preponderance of evidence”, or that something is more likely than not. Juries also tend to award more compensation to the plaintiff; they are usually driven by passions and sympathies, where the judge makes verdicts based on the laws of court and evidence shown during the trial.

If you choose to have a trial by jury, it is essential to have an attorney that has experience in successful court cases. Jury trials tend to be more strict on the rules of the court, and a lawyer is necessary to advise one on proper courtroom etiquette. Trials by a jury largely consist of drama, and a good lawyer, like a personal injury lawyer trusts, that can cater to the sympathies of the jury may provide better compensation for the plaintiff.

Choosing a trial by jury is usually more beneficial for victims attempting to play off the emotions of a jury of people, where a bench trial is generally better for defendants and people representing themselves. Both parties involved in a lawsuit have the right to trial by jury, but if both parties waive that right, then the verdict of the trial is decided by the judge. If you choose to have a trial by judge, you may still have to present your case to a jury, as the opposing party may decide to have a trial by jury.

There is no one way to decide whether to have a trial by jury or bench trial, and even experienced lawyers sometimes have difficulty advising a client on which type of trial to choose.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Cannon, Hadfield, Stieben & Doutt, LLC for their insight into jury vs. judge trial.