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Bench Trial And Jury Trial: What Is The Difference?


You may have heard of bench and jury trials, but you may not understand the difference between these two types of trials. In the United States of America, criminal defendants have the right to a jury trial, and jury trials are more common than bench trials in the U.S. However, depending on the specifics of a case, a criminal defendant may face a bench trial. It is important that you understand the difference between a jury trial and a bench trial. In this article, we define a jury trial and a bench trial, explain the main differences between the two, and discuss the reasons for a bench trial and a jury trial.

Defining a Jury Trial

The U.S. Constitution gives all criminal defendants the right to a public and speedy trial by an unbiased jury. A jury trial is a trial whereby a group of ordinary citizens (usually 12 people), approved for duty before the trial begins, listens to the evidence and arguments presented by both sides and determines whether or not the defendant is guilty.

When the defense and prosecution are done presenting their evidence and arguments, jurors will meet and deliberate and then reach a unanimous decision. Once the decision is made, the jury returns to the courtroom and shares the verdict.

In a jury trial, a judge presides over the case but does not decide if the defendant is guilty or innocent.

Defining a Bench Trial

There is no jury in a bench trial. In a bench trial, a judge presides over the case and decides whether the defendant is guilty or innocent.

Defendants don’t have the right to a bench trial. However, defendants could waive their right to a jury trial and receive a bench trial instead. Nevertheless, it is not guaranteed that if a person waives their right to a jury trial and asks for a bench trial, the prosecutor or judge will approve their request.

Bench Trial V. Jury Trial

Now that you know what a jury trial is and what a bench trial is, let’s discuss the main differences between these two types of trials;

  • The Decision-maker: This is the most obvious difference between jury and bench trials. In a jury trial, jury members decide if a defendant is innocent or guilty, whereas, in a bench trial, it is up to a judge to make this decision.
  • Speed: Jury trials typically take longer than bench trials because of, among other reasons, the need to select and instruct a jury.

Reasons for a Jury Trial

First, a jury trial may be best when defendants want to leverage feelings to win their case. Second, a jury trial is best if you want to have more grounds to appeal in case you lose your case. In a bench trial, you have few chances to appeal the case results.

Reasons for a Bench Trial

First, a bench trial would be a good option if you have a complicated case that a jury would find hard to understand. Second, this option is right for those who wish to save money and time. Additionally, if your case is being handled in a municipal court, you may not have another choice, as municipal courts have no jury trials.

Contact Us for Legal Help

For help with a criminal case, contact our qualified NYC criminal defense attorney, Mark I. Cohen, at 917-414-8585.

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