Jen's answer is excellent as far as it goes. I'll just add some details relevant in the modern continued desirability of the practice and reality.
Juries tend to be pro-defendant in state law criminal cases
Empirically, in U.S. state courts in criminal cases, juries are significantly more likely to acquit, unlike judges they sometimes deadlock (forcing a retrial if the prosecution is bothered to try but often a more favorable plea bargain) and are no more likely to convict, than judges.
So, criminal defendants overwhelming chose juries over bench trials except in rare cases where their individualized facts make a jury trial less desirable such as law enforcement defendants (and even then, the prosecution can insist on a jury trial if it wants one).
Other consequences of jury trial
Jury trials are found by some to be attractive because:
(1) juries render verdicts immediately after finishing deliberations after hearing the case, while judges in bench trials often takes weeks or months to rule,
(2) it makes it very unlikely that the trial will be broken up with trial dates spread over weeks or months,
(3) it is harder to appeal a jury verdict in a civil case since the jury makes few specific findings of fact and is given the benefit of the doubt about the basis for its ruling,
(4) judges are more strict about following the rules of evidence in a jury trial than a bench trial,
(5) jury trials are more expensive than bench trials and put parties without lawyers at a greater disadvantage, and
(6) while judges and juries are both supposed to consider only admissible evidence presented at trial in ruling, judges often know other facts that could be prejudicial like a non-testifying defendant's prior criminal record, and
(7) the possibility of a jury trial produces rules of civil procedure that disfavor prompt pretrial resolution of evidentiary disputes in lawsuits even when the facts are fairly clear, which is advantageous on average to a party who wants to buy time and to a party who feels that the case is complex and feels a need to tell the whole story to get justice.
Democratic theory and political perspectives
From the point of view of the functioning of the judiciary and democratic system of government as a whole:
(1) serving on a jury empirically increases your faith in the legal system,
(2) juries are a forum other than voting when decisions are made by "the People" rather than government officials or politicians,
(3) juries can nullify the law, i.e. ignore it, a decline to convict even when someone is technically guilty but it is unfair or unjust in the eyes of ordinary people which discourages overreach by prosecutors and judges,
(4) widespread use of jury trials not only prevents the finder of fact from being subject to "regulatory capture" but also makes "regulatory capture" of judges a less attractive strategy for people likely to engage in repeat litigation to engage in at all, and
(5) jury trials protect judges from being blamed for unpopular serious major decisions in high profile cases such as cases with seemingly excessive damages or cases where the liability/guilt determination in unpopular - this allows judges to remain more above reproach and less subject to criticism and hence more legitimate in the eyes of the public. The appearance of impartiality on the part of the judge that juries enhance can be particularly important for conveyance the impression to the public that criminal defendants have received a fair trial where judges enforce criminal law in cases brought by prosecutors and the vast majority of the time criminal defendants end up getting convicted.
A good example of how (5) works is to compare personal injury lawsuits before juries (which rarely result in criticism of the judge) to child custody cases before judges in which a judge has very wide discretion subject to very little appellate supervision and makes decisions unilaterally with no other judges on a panel or jurors (which is probably the predominant source of criticism of the fairness of judges).
Non-economic damage awards and other legal doctrine related issues
About 75% of U.S. civil jury trials are in personal injury cases, mostly on the theory that juries are more generous than judges in awarding non-economic damages (e.g. pain and suffering), or by plaintiffs who don't fully trust the judge (e.g. in civil rights cases where the judge is often a former prosecutor). In systems without juries, non-economic damages are often based upon administratively adopted scheduled that are more stingy (compare, e.g., worker's compensation awards to jury verdicts for disabling injuries and deaths) and these schedules or statutory damage amounts don't tend to keep up with inflation and the public sense of what is fair compensation.
Functionally, large non-economic damage awards from juries in civil cases also make up for the "American rule" that each side pays their own attorney fees in civil litigation in U.S. law.
Systemically, because juries are bound only by the legal instructions given and don't have access to the whole of case law and precedents, in making their decisions (especially on liability and guilty), it allows the somewhat vague and flexible legal standards of the law to stay vague and flexible rather than ossifying through precedents that govern very specific fact patterns. This reduces the risk of bad decisions in individual hard cases being baked into the law (although this is still a risk to some extent on a precedent based common law legal system).
In general, juries are good at translating community norms into decisions in cases where there is not a clear formula to determine the right answer.
Downsides of juries
Juries aren't unmitigated good things.
(1) They discourage prompt pretrial resolution on the merits of cases with factual disputes even if the correct outcome of the factual dispute is fairly clear. This often forces plaintiffs with strong cases to have to compromise and get less than they are entitled to in order to get a swift resolution, and it increases the settlement value of factually weak lawsuits.
(2) Jury trials are longer and more expensive to the parties and the court; this also delays the time frame in which trials can be set because jury trials take more days (an extra half-day to day for jury selection at the front end, and more time for jury instructions and deliberations on the back end), which is harder to find room for in a judge's calendar.
(3) Jury service places an undercompensated burden on members of the general public who have to serve on them and their employers.
Fun fact: There are more jury trials per capita in England and Wales than there are in the U.S., even though unlike the U.S., England and Wales does not have a jury trial right for minor criminal offenses and does not have a right to a jury trial in all but a handful of civil cases, and even though the U.S. has more serious felony cases per capita, because serious felony cases are much less likely to be resolved by a pretrial plea in England and Wales than in the U.S.
(4) Juries are more prone to letting people who are guilty of crimes avoid punishment and are only modestly less likely to wrongfully convict people.
(5) The jury system makes the law less certain and predictable.
(6) Juries allow judges to avoid responsibility for decisions that they strongly influence in harder to detect ways than simply rendering a verdict.
(7) Juries often make their decisions, right or wrong, for the wrong reasons and this can't be addressed on appeal as it can in a bench trial with a reasoned written order setting forth the factual basis and application of the law to the facts the support a ruling.
(8) Jury nullification can often be unjust, preventing democratically adopted laws from being given their full effect.
(9) In complex cases, jurors aren't always smart enough to understand the relevant law and the relevant facts.
(10) Jury unanimity means that unreasonable holdouts on juries who are representative of good thinking and community sentiment can produce incorrect or bad verdicts.
(11) Ignoring data not included in admissible evidence that is available to judges can result in less accurate resolutions of court cases.
Some of the downsides of juries are mitigated by their non-availability, either by contractual waiver of a jury trial right, or failure to demand jury trials, or choice of an arbitration forum, in many contexts where the downsides of jury trials are greatest.
For example, juries are usually either unavailable as a matter of law, or contractually waived in most debt collection cases with institutional lenders and landlords.
The larger number of lawyer hours required for jury trials in criminal cases than in bench trials in the U.S. is mitigated by the fact that the price at which government prosecutors and government public defendants charge for conducting jury trials is much, much cheaper than comparable private sector criminal lawyers and by the high rates of plea bargaining in the U.S. The average amount of compensation for lawyers and paralegals on both sides of the case combined (prosecution and public defender) in an average U.S. felony prosecution is well under $200 per felony case prosecuted. This wouldn't cover a single billable hour of work by mid-career a private sector attorney. Basically, the government is paying wholesale rather than retail for its legal work, and law enforcement does a lot of the grunt work to get cases ready for prosecutors.