Situations in Which a Bench Trial Would be Advantageous
- Saving on Legal Fees
- More Informal Setting
- Complex Case
- Type of Case
There are many reasons why a defendant might choose a bench trial. Being charged with a crime and having to appear in court can be a stressful and costly thing whether it’s for a traffic violation or a criminal matter. Defendants and their lawyers want to enter the courtroom with every possible advantage. While some may feel the judge is prejudiced and request a jury trial, others don’t want to take their chances on 6-12 strangers and opt for a bench trial. Which one is better? Here are five reasons why a defendant may choose a bench trial.
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Saving on Legal Fees
Any time a defendant pleads not guilty to a charge, the defendant can expect a fight, which requires hiring an attorney. That in itself can be very expensive, especially if the case is a complicated one that can take a long time. In most cases, the defendant wants to save as much money as possible in any way possible. Defendants and their families can save money on legal fees by choosing a bench trial. This is especially true in criminal cases. Additionally, there is also the cost for jury members.
There is a lot of work and time that goes into a jury trial. If it’s a large case, it can take days to select a jury that both sides agree on. In a criminal case, the attorney typically has less work and preparation to do, so the entire process takes less time. Generally, more research and legal work go into jury trials, and this can make them last for days. Bench trials are usually handled on the same day.
More Informal Setting
A bench trial is a much more informal setting that often has the defendant more at ease. Despite having fear of a judge, it’s only the judge they have to convince. They’re also able to assure that the judge hears all sides of the case as opposed to a jury trial where juries are often instructed to disregard certain information. Defendants often feel more comfortable just having to prove their case to one person rather than a dozen.
Legal cases, at best, can be very complicated. Anyone that has ever watched the numerous legal shows on TV will attest to learning many new legal terms or strategies. As knowledgeable as jury members may appear to be, they may not have the legal minds to understand complexities involved in a legal case. Judges know the law forward and backward and will understand anything the attorneys have to say. Many cases are won because of a technicality. Jury members are not always comfortable with this and may not make an accurate of appropriate decision.
Type of Case
The type of case the defendant is involved in will play a part in choosing the type of trial. Charges that end up in municipal courts do not have the option of jury trials so bench trials are the only option. However, some states do make the stipulation that if the sentence could result in jail time of six months or longer, the defendant may have the choice of a jury trial or a bench trial. For something as simple as a speeding ticket or seat belt violation, the bench trial is the only option.
According to the American Bar Association, more cases are settled out of court and never make it to the courtroom. However, defendants who feel this may not be in the cards for them should choose the option that their attorney recommends, which in many cases is choosing a bench trial.