For criminal defendants, the right to a jury trial is found in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This right and the others enshrined in the Constitution are intended to keep the country from instituting an oppressive government.
Arizona has a similar right to a trial by jury found in Ariz. Const. Art. VI § 17. The right to a jury trial in criminal cases is recognized in felony cases in Arizona.
However, people who are charged with certain misdemeanors carrying less than six months in jail or petty offenses do not have a right to have their cases heard by a jury.
Criminal defendants who are facing more severe charges have the right to waive their rights to trials by juries. When that occurs, their cases are heard by a judge instead of a jury of their peers.
People who are facing serious criminal charges should understand the purposes of a jury and the pros and cons of choosing a trial by jury. Getting guidance from an experienced criminal defense trial attorney is essential before making a decision about whether to waive your rights and choose a bench trial or to proceed to a trial by jury
What is the Purpose of a Jury Trial?
A jury is selected from a cross-section of the community in which the defendant is charged. Each juror is sworn in and must take an oath to decide the case based on the facts and the law.
During a trial, the jury members listen to the evidence that is presented by the prosecutor and the defense attorney. Once both sides rest, the jury meets to decide whether to find the defendant guilty or not guilty of the offenses charged.
During a jury trial, the judge determines which evidence the prosecutor and defense attorney can admit. The judge will also give instructions to the jury about the law and legal principles that the jurors must follow. If a jury returns a guilty verdict, the judge will determine the appropriate sentence.
The purpose of a jury is to have a fair trial. Jurors are supposed to be impartial. During the jury selection, or voir dire process, the attorneys and judge can ask prospective jurors questions to identify any biases. The attorneys can eliminate prospective jurors through the use of for cause or peremptory challenges. However, a jury cannot be chosen in a way that might be biased. For example, a prosecutor cannot eliminate all Black jurors in a case with a Black defendant.
What are the Pros of Choosing a Trial by Jury?
Choosing a trial by jury offers several benefits to criminal defendants. Some of the benefits are detailed below.
- A Jury of Your Peers
Juries are made up of a randomly selected cross-section of the people in your community. This can help to increase the objectivity of the jury’s decision-making process. Since prosecutors and defense attorneys do have limited power to remove certain jurors, a jury may also be fairer to both sides.
- Elimination of Bias
A jury can help to eliminate bias in criminal cases. Having a jury of multiple people to discuss and decide facts lessens the likelihood that a single person who is biased against the defendant will sway the decision.
- Voir Dire Increases Impartiality
During voir dire, the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense lawyer can ask prospective jurors questions that are designed to elicit information so that they can determine whether a juror can be impartial and fair. Prospective jurors can be dismissed if their answers do not indicate that they can be impartial.
- Minimum Number of Jurors
In federal criminal trials, the final jury must be comprised of 12 jurors. There might also be an alternate, but the jury panel of 12 jurors are the only ones involved in the decision-making process. In the Arizona criminal court system, criminal case juries in Superior Court have between eight and 12 members, depending on the severity of the case.
In courts of limited jurisdiction, criminal juries have six members. In any criminal case, the juries must reach unanimous decisions before defendants can be found guilty.
What are the Cons of a Trial by Jury?
There are also a few drawbacks of a trial by jury. Your attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons so that you can make an informed decision.
- Convictions Caused by Bias
While juries are designed to be fair and impartial, it is still possible for a jury to find a defendant guilty because of bias. Prosecutors sometimes try to stack juries in their favor during the jury selection process to try to obtain a finding of guilt. This makes the defense attorney’s skill during voir dire very important to prevent this from happening.
- High False Conviction Rates in Violent Felony Cases
In capital cases and other violent felony offenses, research has shown a high false conviction rate. Many stories of people spending years in prison only to later be cleared by DNA evidence have made national news over the past decade.
- Potential for a Strong Personality to Sway the Jury
In some cases, a single juror will have a strong personality and the ability to sway the jurypanel to make a particular decision. A single juror can also cause a hung jury if he or she reaches a decision that is different than the other jurors.
- Length of Time to Reach a Decision
Jury deliberations can take a long time when a case’s merits are under dispute. In serious cases, juries may deliberate for weeks or months before reaching decisions.
What Does a Hung Jury Mean?
In criminal trials, juries must reach unanimous decisions. This means that every member of the jury panel must agree on the finding of guilt or lack of guilt. If one juror disagrees and refuses to issue the same decision as the rest of the jury, it can be a hung jury. The criminal defendant cannot be convicted by a hung jury.
Instead, the case will be in limbo until the prosecutor decides whether to retry it or dismiss it. In severe cases, prosecutors usually choose to retry the cases at new trials. If a jury informs the judge that they are unable to reach a decision, the judge will typically give further instructions to try to facilitate a decision. However, if the jury still cannot reach a decision, the judge will declare a hung jury.
Having an Attorney is Important When Cases Go to Trial
While there are both pros and cons to jury trials, the decision to waive your right to a trial by jury is not something that you should take lightly. If you choose to waive your right, your case will be decided by a single judge. A criminal court judge may have biases against defendants gained over years of serving as a judge in criminal cases.
If you try to go to a jury trial on your own, you will be expected to know the rules of evidence and the trial procedures in the same way as the prosecutor. You will be required to know how to make objections, enter evidence and exhibits at trial, participate in jury selection, and call and question witnesses correctly.
Even if you have a legal background, trying to represent yourself can be difficult. An experienced criminal defense trial attorney at CHM Law understands the criminal trial process and can help to guide you through the trial process. To learn more, call us today at (602) 825-2500.
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I, recently, consulted with Darin after my wife filed for divorce. He was referred to me by a friend whom I very much trust. Darin was the antithesis of the first two attorneys I consulted (who were matter-of-fact and had very little empathy about the fact that I was struggling emotionally with what was transpiring). From the first few minutes of speaking with Darin, it was obvious that he was very knowledgeable and skilled with divorce and family matters. While that was most important to me, the thing that made the difference was his calming, logical, and empathetic approach. He took the time to listen and empathize with me. He took the time to understand what I wanted to achieve through this process and laid out my options. After the consultation, I knew he would be my attorney if I had to pull the trigger. I, ultimately, didn’t have to engage Darin’s services due to a reconciliation with my wife. I hope I never have to go through that process again, however, if I do, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt who I will be hiring to represent me…Darin R. Colburn. Darin, thank you for caring and being more than an attorney.
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I hired David Maletta and it was the best decision of my life. His knowledge, genuine interest, overall attitude, and ability to connect with people is incomparable. I could talk about all of this at length. I COULD do all of that, but that wouldn’t do David justice. He first and foremost demonstrates his interest and genuine care for his client. Being in uncharted territory with a criminal charge and nowhere to turn, David’s presence and personality put all nerves at ease. I went through a jury trial with David beside me. The trial ran for 3 days and I spent a significant amount of time with David one-on-one. During this stressful time, he wanted to hear my input and thoughts on everything. David was incredible from the first day I met him. Not only is he a great attorney, but he is also a great person who cares about people and finding justice for his clients. He connects to the human side of people. I can’t put into words how much David cares about the individual in a case. When it comes to the courtroom, there is NOBODY I would rather have defending me than David.
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Before I hired Darin I went through a total of 3 different attorneys in two different states fighting a jurisdiction battle, when my daughter was taken to a different state. It was a very difficult decision to switch attorneys at one of the most difficult, time sensitive and important times in my case, but I’m very glad I did. Upon receiving my file from previous attorneys Darin came very familiar with my case quickly. Like other people have explained he took the time to lay everything out and explain how the process was going to proceed and what to expect and continued to do this as new issues arrived. He is also very quick at responding to emails and phone calls. My case was getting close to trial as told by my previous attorneys, I did not want to go to trial as I know this is very costly (most attorneys will convince you that you need to.) Darin knew my situation, fought for what was right and got the results I wanted while avoiding a costly trial. He is extremely knowledgeable in the Child Support Guidelines as well. Because of Darin I got my daughter back. I would highly recommend him and would hire again for any future issues. Thanks Darin!
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“I was found NOT GUILTY. Dave won the trial for me.”
Dave stayed with me while he pushed back and forth with Covid-19 and the delays with court. Once cited, the state basically decides that you’re guilty through the automatic suspension of your drivers license. Dave immediately took care of that problem and I never lost the privilege of driving. Dave took notes like crazy and was upfront about our uphill battle. I was also well aware that the plea deal that was given to us, was unacceptable and through Dave’s knowledge and experience I had put my trust in him to guide me to make the right decision on how to proceed. With Dave’s guidance I had decided that we needed to fight for something better than what the prosecutor was offering and Dave was 100 percent behind me on that decision. We knew the risks, be we also knew we had very little to lose based on the prosecutions stance. We decided to go to trial… Watching the prosecution and then watching Dave was night and day!! It was clear to the jury that the prosecution didn’t have their facts straight and were not addressing the facts that they could not address…There was a lot at stake for my personal life and my work life. I was found NOT GUILTY. Dave won the trial for me.
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I had an incident and was Given the catch-all charge. There wasn’t really anything I could do by myself to get out of it. Tim was absolutely amazing and worked diligently to ensure that I would have the best possible outcome from my case. Which he successfully achieved! As of right now I am on the path to having my case fully dismissed. A couple things that really helped me through this process was that Tim did an amazing job at was answering my questions. He was available almost anytime and would respond promptly when he got my emails. He was also very approachable and comforting to be around while we had in person meetings and especially when I was at the court house. I would trust him and the company he works for with any other cases in the future and as of right now they will be my first choice if I need a lawyer in the future.
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I honestly just want to let it be known to any and everyone looking for an attorney on a case. Whether it be DUI, possession, or your every day to day traffic violations where you need representation attorney Tim Hintze is your man. You have to respect a man that listens to every request that you make on a case and he gets in there and gets it done. Tim has my respect as an attorney and being a well-rounded representer. From him being honest on the possibility and options for your case to him being easy to work and communicate with via over the phone or face to face Mr. Hintze is working it out.