Jury - Right to Jury Trial

Favorable and Noteworthy Decisions in the Supreme Court and Federal Appellate Courts

Lewis v. United States, 518 U.S. 322 (1996)

A defendant who is prosecuted in a single proceeding for multiple petty offenses does not have a Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, even where the aggregate prison term authorized for the offenses exceeds six months.

Blanton v. City of North Vegas, 489 U.S. 538 (1989)

Under Nevada law, a DUI is punishable with a prison term of between two days and six months imprisonment. The Supreme Court holds that this offense does not require trial by jury. The fact that the defendant can also be sentenced to a license suspension, 48 hours of community service, a $1,000 fine and that the prison term carries a mandatory minimum even for First Offenders, does not change the analysis. This constitutes a petty offense and the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee a jury for the resolution of such cases.

United States v. Salazar, 751 F.3d 326 (5th Cir. 2014)

The defendant testified and confessed. The trial judge instructed the jury to retire and deliberate and return a guilty verdict. This violated the Sixth Amendment. The trial court may not direct a verdict of guilty. The government’s suggestion that this was harmless error was rejected.

United States v. Kimsey, 668 F.3d 691 (9th Cir. 2012)

The trial court erred in denying the defendant the right to a jury trial in a prosecution for contempt of court under 18 USC § 402. See 18 U.S.C. § 3691. The defendant was accused of ghost-writing pleadings in a civil case, though he was not a lawyer. The government alleged that this violated the Rules of the court that adopted state criminal offenses.

United States v. Mendez, 102 F.3d 126 (5th Cir. 1996)

Though defendant’s counsel waived a jury trial (the central issue was whether the evidence would be suppressed), the defendant himself never waived his right to a jury trial pursuant to Rule 23(a). The only exception to the requirement that a waiver be in a written format is the attorney expressly waives the right to a jury trial and the defendant acquiesces to the waiver through silence as the bench trial is being conducted. Here, however, the defendant was an uneducated Colombian who was not aware of his right to a jury trial.

United States v. Duarte-Higareda, 113 F.3d 1000 (9th Cir. 1997)

The non-English speaking defendant’s trial was conducted as a bench trial. The Ninth Circuit holds that where the defendant is non-English speaking, an on-the-record colloquy is necessary to determine if the defendant is knowingly, and voluntarily waiving his right to a jury trial.

United States v. Christensen, 18 F.3d 822 (9th Cir. 1994)

Criminal defendants may waive their constitutional right to a jury trial if the waiver is made in writing and has the approval of the government and of the court. Fed.R.Crim.P. 23(a). Furthermore, the defendant must be competent to waive the jury right, and the waiver must in fact be voluntary, knowing, and intelligent. The better practice in assessing a defendant’s waiver is for the defendant to be told that, (1) twelve members of the community compose a jury; (2) the defendant may take part in jury selection; (3) jury verdicts must be unanimous; (4) the court alone decides guilt or innocence if the defendant waives a jury trial. Though these warnings are not absolutely essential, here, the trial court was aware of the defendant’s possible psychiatric problems, but did not explain these matters to the defendant. Therefore, the conviction was reversed.

United States v. Robertson, 45 F.3d 1423 (10th Cir. 1995)

Rule 23(a) requires that waivers of the right to a jury trial must be in writing. The failure to waive the right in writing is not necessarily fatal to the waiver. However, there must be a record that the defendant herself voluntarily and knowingly made the waiver. Counsel’s oral waiver is not alone sufficient to satisfy the requirement of Rule 23.