The concept of a jury trial in U.S. jurisprudence is as old as the country itself. Anyone facing jail in the United States is entitled to an impartial jury; however, there is another option, a trial before the court. Typically, court trials are only used in settings like Family Court or where jail is not an option.
In the criminal setting, the court trial can be elected only by the Defendant and he or she must verbally give up the right to a jury in open court and on the record. Often, a court trial is not advisable but there are certain circumstances where a court trial may be preferable.
A court trial works just like a jury trial except the fact finders are a panel of three judges, one of whom is handing down the rulings on evidentiary and procedural issues during the trial. The witnesses testify before the judges just as they would in front of a jury but the judges are not excused from the courtroom during arguments that would normally be done outside the presence of the jurors. The three-judge panel gets to see all of the testimony and argument and information that a jury may not get access to and the judges will see and deal with it in their own way. For the defendant, this is usually a very bad thing because the prosecution will be able to introduce and argue information that the defendant at least has the opportunity to argue its admissibility outside of the jury