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Bench Trial — Defined

Sarah Edwards | November 29, 2022

Showing up to your "bench" trial like ^^

Summary: A bench trial involves no jury and gives all decision-making power to the judge. Facing a bench trial for bankruptcy can be scary. Fortunately, SoloSuit can help you respond to a debt collection lawsuit in minutes.

A bench trial is a trial without a jury. Instead of jurors, the judge alone holds decision-making power. They will hear both sides of a case and examine the evidence before issuing their findings.

Only certain types of cases are eligible for bench trials. For instance, bankruptcy and foreclosure claims will be tried by a judge, and admiralty and maritime claims generally do not allow jury trials. In some cases, a defendant can agree to waive their right to a jury trial.

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Not all cases have the right to a jury trial

Some cases must undergo a bench trial. For example, cases involving bankruptcy or foreclosure will require a bench trial. If a contract between two parties stipulated a bench trial in case issues arose surrounding the agreement, the matter would go before the judge.

Even if a claim is eligible for a jury trial, lawyers must formally ask for one. The legal team must handle the request appropriately to avoid ending up with a bench trial.

What are the advantages of a bench trial?

Bench trials are advantageous when both parties want to expedite the case's outcome. There is greater flexibility allowed in a bench trial, and judges can choose to start the proceedings earlier and end them later. In contrast, a jury trial must adhere to certain regulations, including a specific start and end time and adequate time for breaks.

Bench trials usually don’t require opening and closing statements. Instead, both the plaintiff and defendant can submit written statements, which cuts down on court time.

There is also no need to ensure certain arguments aren’t heard by the jury, such as questions about the admissibility of evidence.

Since lawyers won’t need to deal with the jury selection process, they can save time investigating potential jurors. They won’t need to draft questions related to the jury selection process or conduct research on prospective jurors.

There’s also not as much need to follow an orderly process; lawyers can present witnesses and evidence according to timing constraints.

Bench trials also ensure that the person reviewing the case is a legal expert who understands complex facts and legal arguments. A bench trial may be a better fit if a case involves specific claims that may be difficult for a jury to understand. For instance, a lawsuit involving lots of scientific evidence or financial details might align better with a bench trial.

What are the disadvantages of a bench trial?

Bench trials aren’t always advantageous for both parties.

In some cases, judges may have certain predispositions toward specific claims. An experienced attorney will know about the judge’s tendencies from other cases they’ve worked on. If a judge tends to find against individuals in claims similar to the defendant’s, asking for a jury trial is advantageous.

While a jury trial doesn’t guarantee that a case will be decided in favor of a defendant, it will sometimes be an advantage. The attorney must be careful in their pre-trial juror research to avoid selecting jurors who may have biases against their client. Uncovering biases isn’t straightforward; developing a list of pre-trial jury questions can help.

Another disadvantage of a bench trial is that the judge will know all the evidence. They’ll review everything submitted, even if the evidence isn’t later allowed in the trial. Knowledge of unadmitted or frivolous evidence can sway their decision, even if they try to remain conscientious and base their decision on admitted documents.

A judge in a bench trial is fully aware of the legal rules. They’re far less likely to let their emotions or personal beliefs take the reins in their decision. A judge will carefully weigh all the evidence while considering prior case findings and federal and state laws.

In contrast, a jury may be more likely to dismiss a case involving certain politically charged circumstances, like racial inequality or police brutality.

Sometimes, a judge may face outside political pressures that push them to decide a particular way on some legal claims. Some judges are publicly elected and must stand for reelection to hold their position. If they rule a certain way in a politically important case, they may have less chance of reelection.

Determine if a bench trial or jury trial is right for your case

If you’re involved in a legal claim, your attorney will advise you on the best type of trial for your case. They will explain the benefits and drawbacks of each possibility and recommend an appropriate course for you.

Sometimes, your case may not be eligible for a jury trial. Your attorney will prepare your claim for a bench trial with a judge in that situation.

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