Each person has a constitutional right to a trial. A trial gives an individual a right to cross-examine or question the witnesses against them. In a trial, a defendant can choose to testify in their own defense or remain silent. The fact that a defendant chooses not to testify cannot be held against them. Depending on the circumstances and facts of a case, one type of trial may be better than another. Time and financial considerations are also factors in choosing what type of trial you may want.
There are generally two types of trials to choose from in a criminal case. A person can elect to do a jury trial or a bench trial. The main difference between the two types of trials determines the finder of fact. In a jury trial, the finder of fact will be a group of 12 or 6 jurors who will consider the evidence presented at trial and must unanimously agree on a verdict. The jury is selected by the attorneys in the case through a process called “voir dire" which is French for “to speak the truth." Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney will be allowed to question potential jurors to determine their suitability to serve on a jury. In a jury trial, the judge’s role will be to rule on evidentiary matters and instruct the jury on the applicable law.
If a person decides against a jury trial but still wishes to contest the matter then they can elect to do a bench trial in front of a judge only. An individual must formally waive their right to a jury trial in writing before choosing a bench trial. In a bench trial, the finder of fact will be the judge assigned to the case. He or she will rule on all evidentiary matters and ultimately decide the case. Usually a bench trial will take less time than a jury trial since the time that would have been devoted to selecting a jury is eliminated.
There is also a third type of trial that is rarely used. If the prosecutor agrees, you can also elect to do a stipulated bench trial. In this scenario, the parties agree as to what evidence will be presented at trial without holding an actual trial with live witnesses. Once the parties “stipulate" or agree to the evidence that would have been presented at trial then the judge bases his or her verdict on said stipulations. The benefit here is that the defendant does not enter a plea of guilty but also does not have to go through the actual trial process to get to a ruling.
Generally, a jury trial is more time consuming and expensive than a bench trial. However, financial reasons should not be the only factor in such a choice. Depending on the circumstances of the case and after consulting with a lawyer, a jury trial may in fact be the better option over a bench trial.