In almost any civil or criminal case, you have the right to a trial. There are two types of trial: bench and jury. This is a major decision that can make the difference between winning and losing a case. A bench trial is where the Judge evaluates the evidence and determines which party wins. A jury trial is where a jury of local residents decide who wins. Most people assume that all trials are held before a jury as that is more commonly depicted on TV and in media. So, why would you want to choose one or the other?
While the right to a jury trial is a right to be determined by the client, not the attorney, you should always consult with your attorney when making that decision. Often, a major factor can be the views and previous ruling of that judge that can make the difference, and that’s something only an experienced attorney would know.
In general, if the case involves complex issues and nuanced areas of the law, a bench trial will be the better option. In those types of cases, you will need a Judge that knows the law well and will be receptive to arguments over case-law and examples of other cases. Generally, juries lose focus when the argument becomes too “dry” and legal.
If the case hinges more on the credibility of a witness, or what “feels” right and wrong, a jury may be the better choice. Often, jury trials can swing on the appearance or demeanor of a particular witness. They tend to operate more on how they feel rather than the precise legal arguments.
Most attorneys who have been in front of a jury can tell you that, despite the most careful planning, juries can turn on the most unpredictable reasons. A witness dressing a little inappropriately or even their tone can cause a jury to distrust them and not believe what they say. This is less likely to happen in front of an experienced judge.
The attorneys of Banks and Brower have experience in both jury and bench trials. We are well-positioned to advise our clients on the pros and cons of each decision. If you have any questions about this don’t hesitate to give us a call!