There are two types of trials – jury trials and bench trials. When most people think of a trial, they think of jury trials. Therefore, what is a bench trial? Keep reading to find out.
What is a Bench Trial?
Many cases in the United States are settled out of court. Civil cases that make it to trial are likely to be tried from the bench. What this means is that judges will make the final decision with regard to conviction and punishment.
Choosing a bench trial can be a tactical decision for a defendant. If you think a judge would understand your situation better than a jury, this could be a good option. A bench trial also saves you money because it takes less time to set up. Also, if your charges are embarrassing, racially charged, sexually explicit, or overly offensive, this option could keep your situation from getting out into the public eye.
Sometimes bench trials are the only option because municipal courts can’t reside over jury trials. However, you may be entitled to a jury trial in the Appeals court.
What Do I Need to Know About Bench Trials?
To have a successful bench trial, there are tips and tricks you should be aware of.
What to Do Prior to Trial
Juries come to the trial with no prior knowledge of your charges. In a bench trial, you can shape the judge’s outlook before the trial begins. During pretrial proceedings, you can present arguments to the judge.
A thoughtful pretrial briefing could persuade the judge to see your point of view. Your lawyer may be able to convince the judge to grant a motion to dismiss.
Research the Judge’s Published Opinions
You won’t know the dynamics of a jury since they are picked at random. With a bench trial, you can learn how the judge tends to decide. You can also look at recent published opinions of your appointed judge. This can show you what works well with the judge and what doesn’t.
Know and Understand Your Audience
Knowing the judge’s opinions is important, but so is knowing the court’s law clerks. Your lawyer should research those law clerks to see who your audience will be. This will help you in the long run.
Your judge has more knowledge than your average juror. This means that your lawyer can take out some parts of their opening arguments and presentation. This way, your lawyer can spend more time defending you. They won’t need to explain certain parts of the case as they would to a jury.
Flexibility is Key
No matter how much research your lawyer does, they need to be prepared for changes. The judge may be more lenient or more strict with the rules of evidence. If you disagree with a ruling, your lawyer’s argument may not make a difference. Your lawyer’s ability to move forward may make all the difference in the court’s decision.
In a bench trial, the judge can ask the witnesses questions in the middle of an examination for clarification. They could also ask your lawyer to move on from a point they were making. Once again, it’s necessary that your lawyer stays on the good side of the judge. To do otherwise will hurt your case.
Your lawyer should have a plan, but also be prepared for that plan to change. Being flexible might be the most important part of the trial. The judge may make suggestions, ask questions, or give specific requests. Going with the flow of the court will help you in the end.
There are no set rules in a bench trial, so make sure you are prepared. At the same time, be ready to make changes as you go. It may be the difference between a good ruling and a bad one.
Do You Need Help?
If you or a loved one has been arrested, contact Blackman Bail Bonds. We can help you post bail so you can await your trial from home.