A bench trial is a trial where there is no jury. A judge decides who wins or loses without a jury. Some law systems use bench trials for almost all cases (Roman, Islamic). Others use them for only some cases or only some kinds of cases. The rules for bench trials may be different in courts that hear accused criminals and courts that hear lawsuits.
In jury trials, it is the judge's job to say what is the law and the jury's job to find the facts. In a bench trial, the judge does both. In some bench trials, both sides already agree on what the facts are. For example, in civil disobedience cases designed to test the law, accused people often agree with the prosecuting lawyers about what happened. They only want the judge to say whether it really was illegal.
Bench trials are usually faster than jury trials because the court has to do fewer things. For example, there is no jury selection and no need to send the jury to live separately or give them special instructions. For example, if lawyers in a jury trial disagree about whether one piece of evidence should be shown to the jury, they must call for a sidebar and talk to the judge about it privately. In a bench trial, they do not have to keep anything secret from a jury. The judge can also make the trial start and stop when they want. The judge may decide to let the lawyers skip opening and closing statements.
Sometimes, people ask for a bench trial if the evidence is scientific or hard to understand.
A bench trial is almost the same as a jury trial in other ways. For example, the rules of evidence and methods of objection are the same in a bench trial as in a jury trial. Bench trials can be more informal than jury trials. It is often less necessary to protect the record with objections, and sometimes evidence is accepted de bene because it can be removed in the future.
When a jury makes a decision at the end of a trial, it is called a verdict. When a judge in a bench trial makes a decision at the end of a trial, it is called a finding.
United Kingdom[change | change source]
England and Wales[change | change source]
Most civil trials in England and Wales are bench trials.
Summary criminal trials may be heard by a single district judge (Magistrates' Court) or by a group of two or more magistrates, usually three.
Section 47 Criminal Justice Act 2003 does allow a bench trial, but they are rare. There have been only two bench trials of this kind since 2003.
Scotland[change | change source]
Most civil trials in Scotland are conducted in the Sheriff Court by a Sheriff sitting alone. In the Court of Session, a judge from either the outer or inner house usually sits over the trial alone; but the judge may work with a jury if the trial is for personal injury. See: Trial by jury in Scotland
Summary criminal trials are conducted by a Sheriff in the Sheriff Court or a Justice of the Peace in the Justice of the Peace Court sitting alone. The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 says this. Trials requiring juries are called solemn procedure.
Turks and Caicos[change | change source]
The Commission of Inquiry of 2008–2009 in Turks and Caicos said that the law should allow some criminal trials without juries the way England and Wales, the United States, India, Canada, the British overseas territories of the Falkland Islands and St. Helena, and the Netherlands all do.
United States[change | change source]
In United States law, people on trial for crimes have the right to trial by jury, but sometimes they can choose to have a bench trial instead if they want. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution says so.
For an accused person to have a bench trial in the federal court system, three things must happen: The accused person must say in writing that they do not want a jury, the government must agree, and the court itself must agree. The law that says so is rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The state court systems have different rules. For example, Missouri has Missouri Supreme Court Rule 27.01(b), "The defendant may, with the assent of the court, waive a trial by jury and submit the trial of any criminal case to the court..." Missouri does not have a rule saying the government must agree.
Some judicial proceedings, such as probate, family law, crimes and other cases where there is a child and other civil cases do not normally use juries. In such courts, judges say both fact and law.
The Vaccine Courts has bench trials.
Civil law[change | change source]
In most countries with "Roman law," or civil law, there is no "jury" in the English sense, and trials are always bench trials. However, in more complicated cases, lay judges can be called. They are not randomly selected, as juries are. They are volunteers and vote as judges.
Related pages[change | change source]
References[change | change source]
- ↑ Black, Henry Campbell (1990). Black's Law Dictionary, 6th ed. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing. pp. 156. ISBN 0-314-76271-X.
- ↑ "Bench trial". Legal Information Institute. Cornell Law. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
- ↑ "Bench Trials (Federal)". American Bar Association. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
- ↑ "Should I Waive a Jury Trial and Instead Have a Bench Trial?". Greg Hill & Associates. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
- ↑ "Judge in 'crash for cash case' dismisses jury and takes case on himself after jurors were offered bribes outside the courtroom". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2017-02-27.
- ↑ Interim Report of the Commissioner the Right Honourable Sir Robin Auld Archived June 17, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
- ↑ "Supreme Court Rules - Rule 27 - Rules of Criminal Procedure - Misdemeanors or Felonies - Trial: Misdemeanors or Felonies - Trial by Jury - Waiver". www.courts.mo.gov.