When facing the possibility of fighting a legal battle, many people wonder whether a judge or jury trial is the better option. Given our nation’s proud heritage of jury trials in criminal proceedings, many believe jury trials are the superior option. However, that may not always be the case. Under what circumstances could a bench trial (where the case is decided solely by the judge) be a better option than a jury trial?
Benefits of Bench Trials
When trying a case in front of a judge, the judge has the double duty of determining both the law of the case and the facts. As a legal expert, judges are usually better able to determine which facts and circumstances are most relevant to the legal requirements of the case’s various claims and defenses. That makes it possible for the judge to better separate the facts from any emotional sway the case might otherwise have for jurors, often returning a much more rational verdict. Moreover, judges have advanced degrees and years of legal experience, making them highly intelligent fact finders, the likes of which would be fairly hard to find on a typical jury panel.
Bench trials also tend to be less expensive. Without the time involved with selecting a jury, drafting jury instructions, waiting for a jury to come and go during the trial, and all of the other procedures related to juries, the trial itself is usually much shorter. Moreover, the pretrial preparation work required by the parties is also much more streamlined in bench trials.
Cases in front of juries are usually as much about showmanship as the law and facts themselves. When a case is tried in front of a judge, it is usually much more straightforward. Thus, parties can often save money on expensive demonstrative aids used to communicate with the jurors. Evidence rules and procedures may be applied less restrictively, as judges usually believe they can properly evaluate evidence and ignore improper testimony and exhibits better than jurors. Judges also tend to be better at deciding cases involving unpopular parties. For example, some types of businesses tend to have negative reputations with jurors. If, for example, a credit card company were to sue a debtor for failing to pay, a jury might be sympathetic to the debtor even though the credit card company did nothing wrong. A judge, on the other hand, is usually much better at separating these personal biases from the facts of a case to render the most appropriate verdict.
Why Ever Use a Jury in a Civil Case?
With all of those considerations in mind, you may be asking yourself why anybody would ever want a jury trial in a civil case. However, there are a few occasions when a jury trial may be beneficial. For example, if a party has a sympathetic position, a jury may be more easily swayed than a judge. This might mean a bigger award in the judgment. That is why many personal injury attorneys love juries; they usually represent an injured individual against the giant, faceless insurance company unwilling to pay his or her claim—a very sympathetic position.
Not Always Clear Decisions
Despite these points, not every case clearly falls into a jury or bench trial category. Even the most experienced attorneys sometimes struggle with deciding which type of trial would best serve his or her client’s needs. Indeed, even if one party prefers a bench trial, if the other party has a right to a jury, the case may still end up in front of a panel of your peers.
In order to best prepare for any situation, you should seek the advice of an experienced, qualified attorney who is used to making these difficult decisions and can best guide you through the process. John J. Zidziunas & Associates will provide you with expert help in your lawsuit, offering advice, guidance, and quality legal representation. Contact us for a 30 minute consultation at no charge, by email or by calling 973-509-8500.
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