By: South Sound Law Group

What’s the Difference Between a Bench Trial and Jury Trial


It’s easy to think that a trial is a trial, and there aren’t different types of trials with varying uses and outcomes. However, that’s not the case. There are two types of trials in Washington State: bench trials and jury trials. Here’s what you need to know. 

What Is a Bench Trial?

In a courtroom, the bench is usually the elevated area where the judge presides and can oversee the entire courtroom. A bench trial does not involve a jury but is a trial in which a judge makes the final decision on guilty or not and accompanying sentences. The judge in these cases hears the attorneys and collects the evidence that a jury would normally consider.

Everyone has the right to a jury trial, but there is no equal right to have a bench trial. Defendants can waive the jury trial right to try and get a bench trial, but there’s no guarantee that either the prosecutor or the judge will accept that.

What Is a Jury Trial?

The U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone the right to a jury of their peers. These are people selected randomly from all walks of life who both the prosecution and defense lawyers interview before they’re allowed onto a specific jury to determine if they have biases that could affect their approach. Jury members hear all the facts and evidence of the case, then meet privately to determine if the defendant is guilty or not. Once they’ve reached a unanimous conclusion, they return to the courtroom and deliver the verdict.

Which Type of Trial Is Better?

The advantage of a bench trial is that it’s often speedier than a jury trial due to not having to go through jury selection and then the time it takes the jury (usually 12 people) to discuss the case before reaching a verdict. But another aspect that could be either positive or negative to the defendant is that the judge is likely to be much more knowledgeable about the law, and they’re also less likely to view political or emotional aspects of the case as relevant factors. That can change the outcome of a trial. 

Let Us Advise You

Call us at 253-383-3328 to learn more about both bench trials and jury trials and what to expect with either.