Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Court Trial v. Jury Trial

By John DiMotto

Did you ever wonder why some cases are tried to a jury and some to the court (judge alone)?

There is no one answer that is determinative. A lawyer needs to do a total evaluation of the facts, issues, law and the every important emotional aspect of the case.

If the case involves technical evidence, it might be more advisable to try the case to the court because of the special expertise a judge has given years of experience on the bench.

If the case involves a high profile crime that has gotten a lot of publicity, it might be more advisable to try the case to the court because a judge can focus on the evidence to the exclusion of the publicity and public opinion.

If the case involves multiple claims, ie contract disputes with counter claims and cross claims, the evidence could be so overwhelming that it would be nearly impossible to present the evidence in an understandable way to a jury and the lawyers might want the judge to decide the case.

If the case involves questionable law enforcement conduct, a lawyer might want to try the case to a jury because it involves their community standards.

However, in each of the above cases a lawyer might choose the opposite manner of trial.

For example, in a high publicity case, a lawyer might not want a judge who is up for re-election in a contested race to decide the case because of a concern about the cases impact on the race. (It has been my experience that judges do put aside that concern and make their decision on the facts in light of the law, but a litigant might not see it that way.

For example, in a highly technical case, a lawyer might want a jury believing that the evidence is so confusing that the party with the burden of proof will be unable to present the case in a way that the jury will accept it.

Just like there are two sides to every coin, there are different considerations in making the decision to have a jury trial or court trial.

In the final analysis, it is not exactly scientific, but a judgment call.


  1. John -
    I concur with all of the above, with a caveat. The key factor is the percieved consistency and integrity of the judge. Many courtrooms lack an even playing field. Having had the privilege of both litgating against and appearing before you, I can vouch for your groundskeeping skills.
    Terrific blog.

  2. A lot of nuggets in here, John -- you could do a week's worth of posts on each of these strategy calls.

    Good post -- now give yourself a break until after the holidays?

    In any event -- have a good one