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A finder of fact in a civil or criminal trial is the person or group of people who are given the responsibility to determine the answer to all questions of fact — as opposed to questions of law — in deciding the case. Typically, this is a responsibility granted to a jury in a trial who decide how the facts of the case shall be applied to the law that pertains to the matter at hand. However, in a bench trial, which is a trial where the parties make their arguments directly to the judge with no jury present, the judge acts as the finder of fact in addition to his or her typical duty of making rulings of law.
The finder of fact has a duty to answer all questions of fact that shall determine how the law shall be applied to the evidence presented by the two parties. “Questions of fact” are differentiated from “questions of law” as they are the question as to what actually happened. “Questions of law” are questions as to how the appropriate law shall be applied to the parties. An example of something that would be determined by the finder of fact is whether or not Party A threw a rock at Party B before Party B shot Party A. A question of law that the judge would then decide given that situation is whether or not Party B can adequately claim self defense given that Party A threw a rock at Party B before he shot Party A.
In a jury trial, where the jury is the finder of fact, all the arguments and evidence will be presented to the jury for its determination as to how the events pertaining to the trial progressed. There are varying rules by jurisdiction and the type of case as to the size of the jury, the extent to which its members must agree as to how the facts should be decided, and the burden of proof the parties must meet to prove certain facts. Additionally, some regions protect the accused’s right to a jury trial in criminal cases, so it is often required that a jury of the accused's peers act as the finder of fact unless that right is waived by the appropriate party.
In situations where a the right to a jury as the finder of fact is waived or not required by the laws of the region, the judge will typically take on the role of the finder of fact. This is called a bench trial, and there are typically fewer theatrics by the parties within the trial. For example, opening and closing statements — which are tools parties use to appeal to the emotions of the jury — are generally not made during bench trials. Rather, the parties make their arguments to the judge, present evidence and witnesses, and the judge makes the appropriate determinations of facts and law.
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