Bench Trial

What does Bench Trial mean?

At a criminal proceeding, a bench trial allows a defendant to have the judge decide whether they are innocent or guilty. A bench trial differs from a jury trial where the defendant may have six or twelve people decide whether they are guilty or innocent after hearing all of the evidence and legal arguments for the case. Although the defendant may choose a jury trial or a bench trial in certain types of criminal cases, there are reasons that some defendants might prefer a bench trial.

Potential benefits of a bench trial

Benefits of a bench trial can include a quicker resolution to the case (due to the time it takes to choose a jury), the ability to avoid disclosing damaging evidence, and the option to have someone who an expert in the law decide a potentially legally complex case.

Downsides of a bench trial

In some cases, however, legal experts would warn against a bench trial. For instance, although a judge may be able to understand complex legal issues, the judge also has access to all the evidence, evidence which might have been excluded from the jury trial if the judge had decided it was irrelevant or prejudicial.

Additionally, the judge is also more likely to follow the rules and not let emotion rule his decision. If the defense was hoping that the jury would rule based on emotion, this can be a detriment to the defense’s case. Finally, bench trials allow one person to make the decision, a person who may be prejudiced or tempted to rule based on how they believe the public might want them to rule.

What can I expect from a bench trial?

Whether or not you choose a bench trial or a trial by jury you are entitled to a fair trial. Evidence must be presented by the state which proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You are entitled to call your own witnesses, present your own physical evidence, and have an attorney at trial to represent you. If the judge at a bench trial finds you guilty, you will also have the right to appeal your conviction to a higher court.

If you have been arrested for a criminal conviction and you are trying to determine whether you should have a trial by jury or a bench trial, you should talk to a criminal defense lawyer and make a determination based on the facts of your case.

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