While many people may be familiar with the right to have a trial by jury for a criminal case, many people do not know that you can have a jury trial for civil cases as well. When New Yorkers go for jury duty, there is a chance that they could be assigned to a civil case, where money is at stake instead of someone’s freedom. For those who have been injured, a jury trial may be their opportunity to tell their story and get the maximum compensation they might be entitled to. The Queens personal injury attorneys at Sullivan and Galleshaw may be able to take your case before a jury in New York City.
When Can You Have a Jury Trial?
Under New York law, you can demand a jury trial in many cases. In criminal cases with a potential punishment of over 90 days in jail, you always have the right to a trial by jury. That includes any charges more serious than a Class B Misdemeanor.
In a civil case, the question may be more complex. The 7th Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to a trial by jury across the nation. The New York Constitution agrees, with art. I, § 2 stating, “Trial by jury in all cases in which it has heretofore been guaranteed by constitutional provision shall remain inviolate forever….” This is a complicated way of saying that the government may not remove the right to trial by jury for cases that already allow it. This means that even in civil cases, you can demand a jury trial.
There are two general types of civil cases: cases “at law” and cases “in equity.” In a case at law, one party is usually looking for monetary damages, such as payment for medical bills or pain and suffering. In cases “in equity,” parties look for more complicated results, such as court orders to compel a party to do something. In any case at law, the parties have a right to a jury trial.
This means that in most personal injury cases, such as defective product injury cases, car accident cases, and slip and fall cases, an injured party can demand a jury trial. This puts the questions of who is at fault and how much the injured party deserves in damages to a jury of everyday people.
Most civil trials in New York use only six jurors instead of the typical 12 in a criminal case. In order to make a decision in a criminal case, jurors usually need to believe the case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and all 12 of them need to agree. In a civil case, the standard is much lower. A jury only needs to be convinced “by a preponderance of the evidence” – which is approximately the same as believing the plaintiff’s story is “more likely than not.” They also do not need to agree; you can win a personal injury trial with only five of the six jurors on your side.
Do I Want a Jury Trial?
In any case where you have the right to a jury trial, you also have the right to reject, or “waive,” a trial by jury. You can, instead, face a “bench trial,” where the judge hears and decides your case. Usually, a jury is responsible for deciding the facts of a trial, and the judge decides the law. This means questions of who is at fault, how much things cost, and how bad your injuries are are all questions for the jury. In a bench trial, the judge decides both law and fact questions.
Choosing a bench trial has different implications. Sometimes, it may be easier to convince just one person (the judge) of your case instead of five people (five out of six jurors). Often, judges are also more educated and used to understanding complicated facts. Thus, a judge might understand your case better, but judges may be very skeptical and hard to convince.
Usually, the best kind of trial is the kind that never actually happens. Trials themselves often last only a few days, but the preparation might take months or years. There are many different court documents to file, depositions to take, evidence to collect, and other expenses. If you can convince the other side to settle before ever going to trial, you may be able to save yourself time and money.
New York City Civil Trial Attorneys
The attorneys at Sullivan and Galleshaw have experience handling both criminal and civil trials, and understand when to take a case to trial. Our attorneys also understand that settling out of court may be the best option for you, and help our clients to understand the risks and rewards of all options. For a free consultation on your civil, personal injury case, call today at (800) 311-HURT.