Your Right To A Jury Trial

In most jurisdictions, a decision that must be made early in a drunk or impaired driving case (often at the arraignment) is whether to try the case to a jury or to the court. The Supreme Court has held that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is applicable to the state proceedings through the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court has further held that the Sixth Amendment does not require a jury trial for “petty offenses,” which have been defined as crimes that are punishable by a maximum sentence of six months or less, although other factors are also considered in determining whether an offense is “petty.” The Supreme Court has held that offenses for which the maximum period of incarceration is six months or less are presumptively petty and therefore not subject to the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, and that the existence of additional punishment in the form of a $5,000 maximum fine and other probational penalties in addition to a six-month prison term did not entitle the defendant to a jury trial.In DUI or DWI cases, factors such as a mandatory jail sentence, automatic license revocation, the amount of the fine, the enhancement of future offenses, and public concern with the drunk driving problem in the jurisdiction should be considered, in addition to the maximum sentence, in determining whether a defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. However, it has been held that the fact that a drunk driving offense is punishable by probationary period of more than six months does not entitle the defendant to a jury trial. If a defendant is charged with two or more offenses, the sum of the maximum sentences is used to determine whether the defendant has a right to a jury trial. Finally, it is an abuse of discretion for a trial court to limit its sentencing discretion in the case prior to trial in order to deny the defendant the right to a jury trial.

The Sixth Amendment does not specify the number of jurors that are needed to constitute a jury. While 12-person juries were required under the common law, the states are not required to provide juries of that size. At least six persons are required to constitute a valid jury, however. While six-person juries must render unanimous verdicts, 12-person juries may render verdicts concurred in by a 3/4ths majority.

The right to a trial by jury granted in many state constitutions has been construed to provide for jury trials in instances where the Sixth Amendment does not (i.e., where the maximum sentence is less than six months). It should be understood that while a state constitution (or statute) may not validly prohibit a jury trial in instances where such a trial is required by the Sixth Amendment, it may permit a jury trial in instances where such a trial is not required by the Sixth Amendment.

Most states have statutes governing the right to jury trials in criminal cases. Obviously, the statutory rights cannot be less permissive than the rights granted in either the Sixth Amendment or the state constitution. Some statutes base the right to a jury trial on the penalty provided for a crime, while others base it on the category of the offense. In most jurisdictions, a defendant accused of any drunk or impaired driving offense is entitled to jury trial. In some jurisdictions, however, jury trials are not permitted for DUI offenses wherein the maximum sentence is less than six months.

Copyright 2015. William C. Head. All Rights Reserved.