Peer Review

I'd pass on the constitutional amendment to allow jury trial waiver

A couple of things I didn’t realize until this week:

  1. On the ballot this year is a proposed amendment to North Carolina’s constitution that would allow criminal defendants in non-capital cases to waive their right to a trial by jury.
  2. North Carolina is the only state that doesn’t allow this.

Which is astonishing to me. But yeah—all 49 other states give criminal defendants the option to forego a jury trial, a right guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment, and be tried before a judge. The argument for this practice centers on efficiency, since no jury means no jury selection or resources spent to feed or lodge them, and simple justice, since a judge is presumably more likely to know the intricacies of the law and evidentiary procedure than a pipe fitter.

Of course, there are a whole bunch of arguments against: reduced citizen participation in the judicial process; open season for judge-shopping; the temptation to pressure a defendant to waive his Constitutional right; and that the other 49 states haven’t really gained much from that option, as discussed in this informative UNC School of Government white paper on the subject. A fairly small percentage of defendants have chosen that route, write Jeff Welty and Komal Patel, and any efficiency gained might easily be offset by increased chance of appeal and bench trials substituting not for jury trials but guilty pleas.

Sounds like wispy grounds on which to amend the state constitution. I’ll be voting no.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest