Bench Trials and Jury Trials
A bench trial refers to a trial by judge. The trial court judge hears the evidence and decides contested issues of fact in bench trial. In order to hold a bench trial, a defendant must explicitly waive the right to a jury trial, and the prosecutor must consent to that waiver. A liberal judge might therefore never be able to hold a bench trial, because the prosecution has the right to demand a trial by jury.
In Michigan, a defendant has the right to a jury in drunk driving cases. Many states have seen fit to prohibit jury trials in drunk driving cases, showing a remarkable lack of concern for due process. Since you have the right to a jury trial, you should seriously consider exercising that right. A jury trial in a misdemeanor action (such as OWI 1st or OWI 2nd), is composed of seven jurors drawn from a pool of potential jurors. One of the jurors is an alternate, and the facts are determined by the six remaining jurors following the close of both the prosecutor's and defense's case.
While there are certainly more than a few good judges to hold waiver trials before, those judges are the exception and not the rule. Many judges are former prosecutors and others seem to have become prosecutors after being elected to the bench.
There may be strategic reasons for waiving the right to a jury trial in certain instances. These instances might include cases where a jury might be so inflamed by the facts of a case that the jurors will be guided more by passion than reason. Typically, however, a well-selected jury is far more serious and attentive to a defendant's arguments. Moreover, if matters of fact and law are extremely compelling, the judge is empowered with the ability to dismiss a case, granting a directed verdict of not guilty. As such, both the judge and jury act as gatekeepers to a verdict on the prosecutor's drunk driving case.
The remaining reason for possibly waiving the right to a trial by jury is cost. Bench trials are less expensive than jury trials. This, however, is a dubious reason for waiving the right to a trial by jury.