Bench Trial Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Bench Trial, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Bench Trial?

A trial before a judge only without a jury.

History and Meaning of Bench Trial

A bench trial is a legal proceeding where a judge makes the final decision instead of a jury. The term "bench" is derived from the location where the judge sits in the courtroom during a trial, which is typically an elevated platform known as a bench. In a bench trial, the judge is responsible for interpreting the law, evaluating the evidence, and reaching a verdict. Unlike a jury, a judge does not have to justify the reasoning behind their decision at the end of the case.

Bench trials have a long history in common law jurisdictions such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. In some cases, bench trials may be more appropriate than jury trials, especially in complex or technical cases where a judge with extensive legal knowledge and experience is better equipped to make a fair and just decision.

Examples of Bench Trial

  1. In a high-profile criminal case, the defendant's attorney may request a bench trial instead of a jury trial to prevent potential jurors from being influenced by media coverage.

  2. In a civil lawsuit involving a dispute between business partners, a bench trial may be preferred because the judge is more likely to have expertise in business law and can make a more informed decision than a jury.

  3. In family law cases such as child custody or divorce, a bench trial may be necessary if one party requests it and the judge agrees that it is in the best interest of the parties involved.

Legal Terms Similar to Bench Trial

  1. Jury trial - the opposite of a bench trial, a legal proceeding where a group of randomly selected citizens make the final decision instead of a judge.

  2. Summary judgment - a legal ruling where a judge decides the outcome of a case based on evidence presented by both sides without a trial, usually when there is no dispute over the facts.

  3. Arbitration hearing - a dispute resolution process where a neutral third party, known as an arbitrator, hears the evidence and makes a final decision instead of a judge or jury.