Most people know that if you are facing criminal charges, and your case goes to trial, you have the right to a jury trial. In Illinois, the right to a jury trial is in the Illinois Constitution. However, most cases in our state, and most states for that matter, are decided by the Judge and are called a “bench trial.” In a bench trial, instead of having a jury decide whether you are guilty or innocent, the judge in your case makes the decision. In Domestic Relations Court, there is no right to a jury trial, as there is not the possibility of jail time (except in when you are held in contempt of Court-see previous blog entry http://illinoislawforyou.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-held-in-contempt-by-the-court/
In a bench trial, the judge will make a determination based on the evidence along with the current law. However, just like in a jury trial, the judge will hear opening statements, listen to the evidence, and listen to closing arguments. The difference here is that you have one person who knows the law deciding your fate, instead of 12 members of society who likely have little experience with the justice system. In many cases, the Judge who has been presiding over case throughout its inception, will be the Judge to oversee the trial; sometimes client’s like this as they have a good repor with the Judge and believe that he/she has a handle on all the facts of the case and can make a fair determination for the parties. And for those that don’t like having the same Judge, there is always the appeals process.