If you have been involved in either criminal or civil litigation, there may have been a time when you were allowed to make a choice between a judge or jury trial. In civil litigation there are certain criteria that have to be met before you can make this choice.
Typically this is when you are not eligible for small claims court because the amount you are seeking is more than your state maximum. Each state’s maximum small claims courts allowable maximum is different and can range from $2,500 to $75,500.
Anything over that and you must file with the Superior Court where you can choose to have your case decided by either a judge or a jury. So, when given the choice, which is better, a jury or a judge deciding it?
One of the best reasons to opt for the judge decided trial is because a judge is not biased and does not let his emotions determine the outcome of the case. All judges are previous attorneys and they understand that they can only look at the facts of the case so they make their determination based on that no matter what their personal feeling are. They may have a serious loathing for either the defendant or the plaintiff, depending on the type of case it is, but still must follow the letter of the law.
Also, because the judges do have a full understanding of the law, they understand fully the terms that are used to make a decision. In a criminal trial, they know what beyond a shadow of doubt means and how they should rule based on this. When it comes to a civil case, the trial is based on a preponderance of evidence which basically means which story is more likely and who made the best case and had the best evidence.
The reasons for having a jury try a case are the exact opposite of the judge trial but for very good reasons. An emotional jury can actually be good for one who has been severely wronged in a civil case or when the defendant wants to have them feel emotion for the crime. While jurors are always told not to get emotionally involved, they are still human and may use emotion when deliberating no matter what they are told. This can work in one’s favor and is one big reason why many take this option.
While a jury is fully instructed in preponderance of evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt both terms can be taken many ways by the jurors. There is more room for interpretation and what one thinks is beyond a reasonable doubt another may not see it the same way. The same goes for a preponderance of evidence. You may think that the plaintiff had the best evidence and was in the right but another juror could feel just the opposite. This is why it can take a great deal of time for a jury to come back with a verdict.
It is never a good feeling to have to go to trial for any reason but if you find yourself in the middle of a criminal or civil case, think hard before deciding which type of trial you want to go with. Both a trial by jury and judge trial have their pros and cons. It is your decision to choose which option you want to go with but remember you have an attorney who can also help you to make this difficult decision.