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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification & Sixth Amendment | 30 Apr 2014

-Arizona Court of Appeals Ruling Protects Trial by Jury


Jury BoxThe Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution is very clear: we have the right to trial by jury in ALL criminal cases. Nonetheless, this very explicit guarantee is routinely ignored by courts across the United States, with charges punishable by nearly six months incarceration often decided unilaterally by a judge. Last week, the Arizona Court of Appeals applied the Arizona Constitution to this issue and ruled that defendants accused of many such misdemeanors are still guaranteed the right to trial by jury.

Court of Appeals rules people charged with shoplifting entitled to trial by jury

Citing 17th Century English law, the state Court of Appeals concluded Thursday that those charged with shoplifting are entitled to demand a trial by jury.

In a unanimous decision, the judges said the Arizona Constitution makes it clear that if a jury trial was mandated for a crime during territorial days, then that right remains more than a century later. They said the fact that the crime is only a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail, does not override that constitutional right.

The state constitution, adopted when Arizona became a state, spells out that “the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”

Appellate Judge Lawrence Winthrop, writing Thursday’s ruling, said that means if someone was entitled to a jury trial prior to 1912 for a comparable common law offense, then that right continues to exist.

The article goes on to detail various other misdemeanors that have been ruled by courts or defined by legislation as jury trial-worthy, such as serious misdemeanors, offenses of moral turpitude, etc. This would, of course, all be a much simpler to navigate if the government obeyed the highest law of the land, guaranteeing the right to trial by jury in ALL criminal cases.

Trial by jury is critical even for offenses which many consider to be “minor”. First, it is obvious that spending any time in jail, let along weeks or months, is not a trivial matter. Such punishment tears apart relationships, destroys livelihoods, and seriously endangers the safety of the incarcerated person. Consider the case of Michael Saffioti, and understand that a de facto death penalty is on the table any time an individual is incarcerated. Second, many of these so-called “minor” offenses are considered minor because they involve no victim, save the delicate sensibilities of those who have the power to redefine things they find offensive as “crimes”. Such offenses are often the most likely candidates for jury nullification, and there is no opportunity for a jury to conscientiously acquit if there is no jury in the courtroom deciding the case.