The 45th President of the United States began his trial for civil fraud and other charges on October 2, 2023, in New York state court. Although Mr. Trump is currently under criminal indictment for 91 felonies in four different jurisdictions, this trial is about whether Mr. Trump inflated the value of his properties in statements to insurers and banks. At stake: Mr. Trump’s ability to conduct business in New York, his business the Trump Organization, and various properties that the Trump Organization owns, including his former residence of Trump Tower.
On the first day of trial, Judge Arthur Engoron informed the New York District Attorney’s Office and Mr. Trump that the trial would be a bench trial with Judge Engoron as the sole decision-maker. Both parties had waived trial by jury as neither party had requested a jury trial. In New York, a party may request a trial by jury by submitting a form that requires the attorney to check off a box marked “trial by jury.”
Civil v Criminal Court
All criminal defendants in America have a right to trial by jury. The default in many jurisdictions in civil court is a trial by the judge, but a party in a civil case can request a jury trial. Many jurisdictions also require that the party requesting a jury trial in a civil case pay a fee; the exact amount may depend on the jurisdiction itself. Mandatory jury trials in criminal courts are required by the federal Constitution itself while civil jury trials are not.
Jury trials in civil court are not required because the stakes in civil court are much smaller – typically just a monetary judgment. In contrast, a guilty verdict against a criminal defendant may result in prison time or even the death penalty. Given the higher penalties in criminal court, the defendant is afforded greater due process, including a right to a jury.
Is It Better to Have a Trial with a Jury or Judge?
It is a strategic decision by an attorney to choose between a trial by a judge or jury. Parties may prefer a bench trial, trial by judge, if the case requires a sophisticated understanding of the law; judges are experts on the law but while juries are not. A party may also decide to forgo a jury trial if there is a certain bias in the jury pool. Bench trials are often faster, as the judge may already be familiar with the case and the trial judge can make a ruling without having to consult with eleven other people.
In contrast, a party may prefer a jury if they believe that non-legal professionals may be sympathetic towards them. Plaintiffs in personal injury cases often request jury trials as ordinary citizens are more likely to be empathic for an injury than a trial judge who has seen numerous injury lawsuits. A jury trial may also preferable if a party prefers to keep certain evidence out, as a judge can filter out potentially prejudicial evidence from a jury.
What If I Disagree with the Jury or Judge’s Decision? A party can appeal the outcome of the trial regardless of whether it is a trial with a jury or judge. Regardless of who decided the outcome though, the appellate, the party filing the appeal, must identify the mistake that the court made. A party can challenge a verdict on the grounds that the
judge barred evidence that should have been admitted or that there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict, among other potential mistakes.
Can I Appeal a Bench Trial If I Wanted a Jury Trial?
Most jurisdictions will not permit a party to appeal a verdict simply because a party wanted a jury trial instead of a bench trial in civil court or vice versa. Since the trial method is a strategic decision by the parties, the failure to request a jury in a civil trial is not considered an error by the court, but an intentional act by the party and/or their attorney. However, an appeal based on lack of a jury may be possible in criminal trials since criminal defendants have a right to a jury trial.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?
If you want the best outcome for your case, be sure to consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney will make sure you know all your rights, that they are being protected, and will know the best strategies to help you get the best outcome possible in your case. Remember, with criminal charges, access to a criminal defense attorney is your right.
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