Judge Or Jury: Should You Request A Bench Trial Or A Jury Trial?

If you have to go to court over a contract dispute, you have a choice between a trial where the case is heard by a jury, and a trial where the case is heard by a judge only, known as a bench trial. One of these isn't necessarily better than the other in general, but there are advantages to both depending on your case's circumstances. Look at whether you're asking for an award or whether you want a speedier trial, among other things, to decide.


Bench trials don't require choosing a jury, nor do they require that 12 people discuss your case and debate before handing down a verdict, and that can speed up the process tremendously. You go in, state your case, let the other party state theirs, and let the judge question you before he or she makes a decision. If you want the case to be over with quickly, a bench trial is best.


A bench trial may also be best if your side of the case may look bad during the trial, even if you're in the right. If the case becomes emotional, a jury could side with the party who seems the most sympathetic, despite their best efforts to remain impartial -- sometimes bias and sympathy are deep-seated and unconscious. A judge may not be so easy to sway with outward appearances.

On the other hand, a jury trial might be a wonderful choice if that emotion could work in your favor. If you're the sympathetic party, even if you're in the wrong, you could end up with less drastic penalties.


The ability to sway a jury with emotion might also help you if one of the objects in the case involves a monetary award. If you win, the jury might be more inclined to let you win big, awarding a larger amount than a judge might award in a bench trial.


The emotion issue might make juries sound less-than-impartial, but in fact, they can be more impartial even when dealing with a high-emotion case. Only this time, the impartiality stems from them not having to impress anyone with the decision. A judge might have to worry about his or her court record; after all, judges are usually elected, and their names are not kept secret on cases. Juries, though, can remain anonymous and don't have to worry about how their verdict might affect their job. So if you're concerned that the judge might rule against you to shore up his or her record, a jury trial could be better.

Talk to a commercial lawyer, like The Law Office of Vernon Nelson, before you decide. The lawyer will help you look at all facets of the case and figure out which type of trial could hold more benefit for you.