Right to Trial by Jury
The right to trial by jury is an important right guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. It protects citizens from the unchecked power of the government and corrupt judges and/or prosecutors. Instead of relying on one official to determine the innocence or guilt of an individual, the founders of our country believed justice would be better served by having a group of citizens listen to the facts and determine the fate of the criminally accused.
The sixth amendment of the US Constitution is where citizens are guaranteed the right to a trial by jury. It states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” This right originally only applied to those facing criminal charges at the federal level and was not applied to the states until 1968. At that time, the Supreme Court determined that a jury trial was considered an integral part of due process guaranteed citizens under the 14th amendment and, therefore, must be afforded to those facing criminal charges at the state level.
Many people misinterpret this right, assuming it means that they have the right to a jury trial for any criminal offense they face. This is not the case. The right to trial by jury has been interpreted to apply only to those accused of a felony or other serious crime. Serious crimes are generally defined as those where defendants face a prison sentence of 6 months or more. The right has also recently been extended to those who may face increased sentencing that goes beyond the limits set by the law. A jury trial is also a right in some civil matters as defined by the seventh amendment.
To learn about the rights to a jury trial in your state, it is a good idea to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. It is possible to waive your right to a jury trial, but this should only be done after understanding all the possible ramifications as explained by your attorney. Criminal offenses are very serious offenses that can forever change the life of a person found guilty. Contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as you suspect you may be accused of a crime (see How to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney).