Court trials are a rare thing nowadays, as most cases are settled out of court. Criminal law is one department of the legal system where the occurrence of a trial is most likely. Defendants who are supposedly guilty of crimes subject to more than six months of jail time are usually given the choice between a bench trial and a jury trial. It would be unfair to say that one is better or superior to the other. Both kinds of trials have their advantages and disadvantages. Several cases are better off with bench trials, whereas some cases are more suitable for a jury. Recently, jury trials have become more popular, given how they are portrayed in T.V shows and on the big screen.
Bench Trial vs. Jury Trial
The mechanics of a bench trial are quite simple and straightforward. The case is represented in front of a judge, who is solely in charge of announcing the verdict. The judge is typically a person who is highly educated in the field of law and has been practicing law for a considerable amount of time. The judge in question may have been appointed on merit or may have been elected by a higher authority, such as a governor or the president.
A jury trial generally employs six to twelve individuals to assess the case. These people may or may not have sufficient knowledge about law. Any healthy (physically and mentally fit) adult U.S citizen who is fluent in English, lacks a criminal record, and has resided in the judicial district for a year is qualified to act as a juror. Government, military, and civil servants are exempt from Federal jury service. The jurors evaluate the case using instructions provided by a qualified judge. The purpose of a jury trial is to have your situation reviewed by a panel of impartial individuals, rather than putting your fate in the hands of a single person.
When a Bench Trial is your only Option
Attorney Troy Crichton, who is a Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer, informs us that jury trials are unfitting or not allowed under particular circumstances. Any case that is to be represented in the Municipal court will always go through a bench trial. Many complex legal issues that cannot be understood by jurors are also transferred to a knowledgeable judge. Jury trials tend to be more formal and expensive; hence, bench trials are preferred where budgets are low or where an informal environment is deemed appropriate.
Pros and Cons of Jury Trials
Jury trials are time consuming, which adds up to the legal expenses. However, it allows your case to be evaluated by a group of people having different point of views. Jurors are more likely to consider emotions, thereby elevating chances of leniency for the defendant. As an audience, they are a lot less strict and addressing them seems easier. Jurors are more sympathetic, so they are inclined to stress on punitive damages and greater compensation. However, one or more jurors could have personal biases that become an obstacle for your victory.
Pros and Cons of Bench Trials
Bench trials are quicker and therefore cost less. An experienced judge will give more importance to the facts and evidence, rather than feelings. Judges often feel pressured to incriminate the defendant but are capable of handling complications. They are focused on reaching a fair verdict and do not care about maximizing compensatory rewards.