June 20, 2014. A bench trial is a court proceeding in which a dispute is resolved 100% by a judge, without a jury. The judge, sitting on the “bench,” resolves both legal and factual disputes in the lawsuit. A jury trial, as the name suggests, is a trial in which a jury is selected to resolve factual disputes (in either scenario, the judge decides the “legal” issues).
There are many pros and cons to a bench trial. First and perhaps foremost, a bench trial is usually faster and cheaper than a jury trial because the parties don’t have to spend time preparing jury instructions and selecting the jury, can often “streamline” their trial presentation, and don’t have to spend significant amounts of time outside the presence of the jury discussing various evidentiary and legal issues which arise during the trial. In general, a simple 3 or 4-day jury trial can frequently be reduced to a 2-day bench trial.
At the same time, a bench trial does not allow a party to have a “jury of its peers” resolve the factual disputes, award damages, etc. Rather, the case rests in the hands of a single person – the judge. Many parties want their “day in court” and want a jury to decide their fate versus a single judge.
When a lawsuit is filed, the parties have to “demand” a jury trial. Otherwise, they will have a bench trial if the case is not dismissed or settled. Also, not all lawsuits give rise to the right to a jury trial.