When most people think of a trial, they imagine a courtroom scene with a judge, a bailiff, the parties and lawyers, and a jury of twelve people who get to decide the case. While this is a fairly common scene, it isn’t always how it works. Either side in a civil trial can demand a jury, but sometimes the parties decide to waive the right to a jury trial and have a judge decide the case. This is called a bench trial, and it has benefits and disadvantages relative to a jury trial.
In a jury trial, there are often evidentiary issues that need to be decided outside the presence of the jury. In this situation, the parties argue to the judge what evidence should or should not be heard by the jury. Once the judge rules on the evidence, the trial can continue in the presence of the jury. In contrast, pretrial motions on the evidence are mostly unnecessary in a bench trial because the judge is ruling on its admissibility anyway, so she will see all of the evidence, including the evidence that is ultimately ruled irrelevant or inadmissible.
Judges are also less likely to render an “extreme” verdict than juries are. Defense lawyers are very good at introducing collateral issues designed to confuse and distract the jury from the real issues of the case. When that happens, the jury could rule against the injured person even in a relatively clear case. Likewise, juries can be swayed by their emotions, and in a particularly disturbing case, they can award far more than the lawyers expect. Judges have much more experience with trials than juries. That means they are less likely to be swayed by emotion or distracted from the core issues of the case, and they are more likely to render a reasonable, but not excessive verdict.
The decision of whether to demand a jury or to opt for a bench trial is an important one, and is something you should discuss with your lawyer. It could definitely affect the outcome of your case.
For more questions about trials, or any other aspect of personal injury litigation, please check out our website, or give us a call. We’d love to hear from you.