Bench Trials in Juvenile Proceedings

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  • 0:03 A Day in Juvenile Court
  • 0:33 What Is a Bench Trial?
  • 1:00 What Is a Jury Trial?
  • 1:35 The Differences…
  • 3:36 A Case Out of Texas
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tisha Collins Batis

Tisha is a licensed real estate agent in Texas. She holds bachelor's in legal studies and a master's degree in criminal justice.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the process of bench trials in juvenile proceedings. Upon completion, you should have strong knowledge of this type of proceeding and why it is sometimes deemed appropriate instead of a jury trial.

A Day in Juvenile Court

The judge sat at the front of the court room, reviewing the documents before him. The juvenile defendant and the defense attorney sat quietly waiting, as did the prosecuting attorney. The jury box sat empty. There was no jury to hear the arguments from each side or instructions from the judge. Instead, the case was going to be decided solely by the judge. The juvenile defendant waited nervously, realizing the next few years of his life lay precariously in the judge's hands.

What Is a Bench Trial?

A bench trial closely resembles the scenario provided above. The case is heard in juvenile court without a jury having any involvement in the trial, since the judge is the only finder of fact. The judge is also the one that oversees the trial, determining if evidence presented is credible and ensuring the procedures are followed appropriately. Essentially, the responsibility of the decision in the case rests solely on the judge's shoulders.

What Is a Jury Trial?

A jury trial is different from the provided scenario. The jury box would be filled with the jurors selected for the trial through the formal jury selection process. The jurors are members of the community and are provided instructions by the judge and listen to all of the evidence presented. Upon the completion of closing arguments, the jurors would go to a separate room to deliberate. Hopefully, they would reach a verdict in the case. In a jury trial, the jury is the finder of fact in the trial while the judge ensures the laws and procedures are followed appropriately.

The Differences Between the Two

Thus, bench trials and jury trials have several important differences which can be seen in this table:

Bench Trial Jury Trial
In a bench trial, the judge is the finder of fact In a jury trial, the jury is the finder of fact
In a bench trial, there is no jury at all In a jury trial, there is a jury and the formal jury selection must take place
Usually judges are elected into their positions and therefore know their decisions in cases could affect their jobs Jurors are not elected and are not at a risk of losing their jobs if someone disagrees with their decisions

One important thing to remember is that juveniles do not have the right to a jury trial in some states. While adults have a constitutional right to a trial by jury, it has been found that the right does not extend to juveniles. Here are the rights that juveniles do not have:

  1. The right to a jury trial
  2. The right to bail
  3. The right to a public trial

However, juveniles do have some protections that should be considered since they are minors. Here are the rights that juveniles do have:

  1. Their records are sealed
  2. The right to an attorney
  3. Their records may be expunged after the juvenile turns 18 if certain conditions have been met
  4. The right to notice before their adjudication hearing
  5. The right to prerelease in the event that their acts are nonviolent

While juveniles do not have all of the constitutional rights enjoyed by adults because they are minors, they do have rights that help to soften the blow. Having an opportunity to have a record expunged benefits a juvenile because it will be like the offense never happened. Additionally, when juvenile records are sealed, the public won't have access to them. Juveniles have the opportunity to, in a sense, erase the bad decisions that they made while they were minors.

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