Is It True You Don'T Have A Right To A Jury Trial If You'Re Charged With A Misdemeanor?

Posted on: 6 December 2017

The Constitution guarantees defendants the right to a jury trial, where 12 of the defendant's peers decide whether he or she is guilty of a crime. However, you may be surprised to learn there are exceptions to this right. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you may only be allowed to have a trial by judge. Here's what you need to know about this matter.

Trial Type Decided by Jail time

Through a few cases, the Supreme Court has decided that petty offenses do not qualify for jury trials. However, what's considered a petty or major offense depends on a few factors, including the maximum amount of jail time the person would serve if convicted. In most states, if your conviction will result in the serving of less than six months in jail, your case will only be eligible for a trial by judge.

This is true even when you're hit with multiple charges where jail time is less than six months, but may result in a sentence of over six months if you were required to serve the time consecutively. For instance, if you were charged with simple assault and public intoxication, both of which have maximum sentences of under six months, your case would not be eligible for a jury trial even though you could potentially face up to a year in jail if you're convicted of both crimes.

Getting a Jury Trial

Most states force people facing misdemeanors to undergo trial by judges to save time, and your case will typically proceed faster because it's only the judge that needs to deliberate before rendering a verdict versus 6 to 12 people who must arrive at a unanimous decision. If the evidence is overwhelming and there's little chance you would be able to convince a jury of your innocence, then this may be the best way to go.

However, if the evidence in your case isn't as clear cut and there's a good chance you could work a jury to your benefit, then you need to ask for a jury trial at the earliest moment in your case. Some states will grant that request, but you won't get a full jury (usually only 6 people instead of 12). In other states, you'll be required to show that the totality of the penalties is enough to qualify your case for a jury trial.

For instance, the consequences of being convicted of a misdemeanor DUI may also include fines, a loss of driving privileges, and admittance into a drug and alcohol treatment program. You could argue that the combination of these penalties is enough to warrant a trial by jury.

Handling this situation can be challenging. It's best to consult with an misdemeanor defense attorney for advice and guidance on whether a jury or judge trial is right for you.