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Jury vs. Bench Trials: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Both

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Many people may imagine that criminal trials always involve 12 jurors, a judge and constant cross-examination of witnesses by angry, loud attorneys. This popular perception is likely due in part to portrayals of criminal proceedings in television shows and movies. Although some cases do play out this way, the vast majority are quite different.

In reality, most cases take the form of either a jury trial or a bench trial. There are distinct differences of each type of trial as well as unique advantages and disadvantages to each type. To better understand the manner in which each of these trial types can unfold, it is helpful to examine some of the distinct characteristics of each type.

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Benefits of a Jury Trial

For cases that are highly charged with emotion or are likely to elicit an emotional response, a jury trial is often the best bet. Also, defendants who employ attorneys often opt for a jury trial because attorneys know how to present evidence to sway jurors to their line of thinking.

A significant benefit of a jury trial is the potential sympathy of the jury. Jurors generally try very hard to be impartial, but the opinions of six or twelve of the defendant’s peers may form a favorable verdict. This is opposed to the lone opinion of a single judge in a bench trial.

Benefits of a Bench Trial

Most often, bench trials are chosen by defendants who wish to represent themselves or who wish to forgo attorney representation. Bench trials are generally much less formal than jury trials and also much less emotionally charged. This allows the attorneys for both sides to communicate and reach agreement on many facts of the case beforehand, sometimes resulting in a plea deal or bargain.

Another significant benefit of a bench trial is the cost of the trial proceedings. Because bench trials do not require the lengthy process of impartial jury selection, witness interviews, cross-examinations and evidence admissions that jury trials do, the process moves along much more quickly. This translates to less expense for the defendant and less time and effort on the part of the lawyers and the judge. This can all lead to a favorable outcome for the defendant.

Of course, a person should not simply choose a jury trial or a bench trial without thorough consideration. Studying the benefits and drawbacks of each trial type is critical.

For more information about bench trials or jury trials, talk to Houston attorney Brett Podolsky at 713-227-0087.

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