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Bench Trial v. Jury Trial - What's the Difference?

Posted by Michael Keller | May 17, 2021 | 0 Comments

Chances are when you think of a trial, you think of a trial by jury. But there is another, sometimes, more common option – a bench trial. If you want to know the difference between a bench trial and a jury trial, read on.

What's the Difference?

The obvious answer is that one trial is before the bench (a.k.a. the judge) and the other is before a jury. But there are several other factors which also distinguish a bench trial and jury trial.

Differences in How a Case is Tried to the Court

  • Generally, in a jury trial, the plaintiff has the right to get the first and the last word. In a bench trial, however, the trial court may permit either party to offer additional evidence at any time when it clearly appears to be necessary to the due administration of justice. 
  • In a bench trial the court may decide that it does not want to hear closing argument. 
  • In a bench trial a judge can question a witness to clarify evidence. 
  • In a bench trial a judge is less likely to exclude evidence.

Who Decides Whether a Case Will be Before a Jury?

Neither a plaintiff nor a defendant can force the other to a bench trial. A request for a jury trial can be made by any party and at almost any time.

Generally, a jury demand that is made and paid by any party at least 30 days in advance of trial will be granted. Tex. R. Civ. P. 216. 

In some limited circumstances, jury trials are not available because the legislature determines that other policies require quick resolution without a jury, or that a penalty to a criminal defendant is too minor to require resolution by a jury. These cases are unusual and not considered here.

Which Should You Choose?

If you can choose a bench trial or jury trial, there are number of considerations to take into account in making your decision. Unless you happen to be trying your case pro se, your lawyer can and should help you walk through these considerations.

Considerations in Deciding on a Judge or Jury 

  • Is the judge plaintiff or defense oriented?

Often this information comes from a lawyer's personal experiences with the judge or conversations with colleagues who have appeared before the judge. When the judge is new or new to the lawyer trying the case, online resources can typically provide basic information about the judge that may be helpful in determining whether a judge is plaintiff or defense oriented.

  • Will the jury be plaintiff or defense oriented? 

Like the information related to a potential judge, this information is often based on the personal experiences of the lawyer trying the case. Additionally, online resources may also be helpful in determining the demographics of a potential jury pool. 

  • In a bench trial, a judge is likely to be more liberal in admitting evidence.

This can be a double-edged sword. It is important to consider the potential evidence in a case and weigh the pros and cons of having evidence allowed and excluded.

  • A judge may be less likely to be swayed by an emotional argument. 

If you have a case that is weak but heavy on emotion you may want a jury – and vice versa. 

  • A bench trial can often take significantly less time than a jury trial. 

This is the case for several reasons. For example, certain pre-trial motions and events are not necessary. Additionally, in a bench trial a judge is likely to move the case along more quickly than in a jury trial. Any recesses in a bench trial are generally shorter and a judge is usually more inclined to start each day earlier and end later than he would in a jury trial.

  • Someone who may be familiar with the law versus lay jurors. 

Unfortunately, not all judges will be familiar with the law related to a case. In a complex case, even a judge who is unfamiliar with the law may be a better than a jury that may struggle to understand the law. 

  • How soon will your case get to trial?

Typically, you can get your case in front of judge much quicker than you would be able to get in front of a jury. This has become even more true as courts nationwide continue to wade through the difficulties of conducting trials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Keller Firm Can Help

Do you have a dispute or other matter that you are considering taking to trial? The Keller Firm has considerable experience in trying cases to both judges and juries. Contact The Keller Firm to discuss your matter today.

Disclaimer: This website is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with The Keller Firm through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship. 

About the Author

Michael Keller

Attorney and Founder

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