Judge or Jury Trial: Which is Better?

Should I ask for a jury trial?

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Questions:

Answer:

Should I ask for a jury trial?

As a self-represented party, you are almost always better off trying your case before a judge than a jury. By not going before a jury, you do not have to worry about the following:

  • making a jury request
  • depositing jury fees with the court
  • selecting a jury, or
  • preparing jury instructions.

In addition, a judge trial is likely to be more informal and easier for you to conduct than a jury trial. For example, in the absence of a jury, your judge may not insist on strict adherence to courtroom procedural rules and rules of evidence. And, of great importance, you can reasonably expect a judge to ignore inflammatory, irrelevant, or other inadmissible evidence from your adversary that slips by you because of your unfamiliarity with evidence rules. Jurors, however, may well be influenced by the improper evidence even if the judge tells them to disregard it.

Despite these arguments in favor of a judge trial, you may still conclude you want a trial by jury because you think the ordinary people on the jury will be more sympathetic to your case than a judge. But whether a judge or a jury trial is more likely to produce a favorable result is a complicated question -- one that many experienced lawyers readily acknowledge rarely has an easy answer.

Lawyer folk wisdom often points to choosing a jury if a case has emotional appeal, and choosing a judge if a case is complex and based on technical legal questions.

Of course, you may end up with a jury trial even if you prefer a judge trial because your adversary may have an independent right to request a jury trial.

For a comprehensive guide that breaks down the trial process into easy-to-understand steps so that you can act as your own lawyer, see Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare & Try a a Winning Case, by Paul Bergman and Sara Berman (Nolo).

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