Bench Trial vs Jury Trial: What's The Difference?

Bench Trial vs Jury Trial: What’s The Difference?

by Jan 21, 2021

Many people don’t realize that, if you’ve been charged with a crime and go to trial, you have a choice between a jury trial and what’s called a bench trial. While a trial by jury is commonly known and is what people typically see in movies and on television, a bench trial may sometimes be more beneficial if you are a defendant in a criminal case.

What Is A Bench Trial?

In simple terms, a bench trial functions just like a jury trial, except instead of having a jury, the judge hears all the evidence by him or herself and decides whether or not you are guilty or innocent.

In fact, in most state cases where a defendant faces less than six months in jail, the only option available is a bench trial.

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Bench Trial Benefits

Depending on the circumstances of your case, your attorney may actually recommend a bench trial instead of jury trial. A bench trial offers several possible benefits that a jury trial does not, for example:

  • A Faster verdict: A bench trial is usually a quicker way to complete a case because it can be scheduled sooner and does not require jury selection and jury instructions, which make the trial process last much longer.

  • Fair Consideration: Oftentimes, information about a defendant will be presented during a jury trial that makes them look bad, even if that information isn’t relevant to the case. For example, if you are charged with robbing a bank, it doesn’t matter if you regularly cheated on your spouse, but if a jury hears that, that may sway their opinion of you even though that information isn’t relevant to your case. In a bench trial, a judge may be more inclined to ignore information that doesn’t pertain to the case.

  • Following the rules: Many attorneys believe that juries tend to decide issues on emotion rather than applying the legal rules they’ve been instructed to use. If your case hinges on applying a complex legal rule to the facts of the case, a jury might have difficulty with the process, or even ignore the rule outright, in which case a bench trial might be a better choice.

Ultimately, it will be up to you and your attorney to decide which type of trial is right for your case. There are as many drawbacks to a bench trial as there are benefits, so it’s important to listen to your attorney’s advice and weigh the pros and cons before making a final decision.

Hiring A Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges and need to decide between a bench or jury trial, your best option is to be represented by counsel as early as possible in the criminal process.

A local attorney who has experience in the court in which your case is being tried can identify the specific advantages or disadvantages to a bench trial or jury trial in that court, give you meaningful advice about your options, and represent you throughout your entire case.

To learn more, or to request a free phone consultation about your case, please contact our office today.


At Quinnan Law, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 540-2356.

We provide representation in California State and Federal Courts. We accept most major credit cards for your convenience.

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