Bench trial refers to the type of trial that does not involve a jury but is conducted by the judge alone, in which the judge both decides the facts of the case and applies the law. The word bench in the law is in reference to the judge, so a bench trial is a trial conducted by a judge, as opposed to a jury trial.
In the United States, trial by jury is a constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment. In the federal court system, if a defendant is entitled to a jury trial, the trial must be conducted by a jury unless (1) the defendant waives the jury trial in writing, (2) the government agrees, and (3) the court approves. In each state, the circumstances in which bench trials apply vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]