DUI and the Disappearing Right to a Jury Trial
Information courtesy of Lawrence Taylor - DUIblog
Ok, the cop said I looked bad on the field sobriety tests, but I know I'm not guilty: I only had two drinks and I've got witnesses. No matter what the police say, I can tell my side of the story to my fellow citizens and let them decide. Right?
Well....Not necessarily. This right to jury trial, handed down centuries ago from England's Magna Carta, was considered so fundamental to the framers of our Constitution that they included it in the Bill of Rights? Sixth Amendment. It makes no exceptions to this sacred right to trial by a jury of peers.
So why do some states today deny a person accused of drunk driving a jury trial? Why, for example, does an American citizen arrested in New Jersey have to accept the decision of a politically-appointed judge? After all, the Sixth Amendment is pretty clear on the subject:
"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..."
How did the government get around this fundamental right? Well, once again they started whittling away by playing around with words. (As the Red Queen said in "Alice in Wonderland, "A word means precisely what I say it means".)
It started some years ago when the federal courts decided that the framers of the Constitution didn't really mean "in ALL criminal prosecutions". So they changed one little word. They said what the framers really meant was that there was a right to jury trial in "serious" criminal prosecutions -- not in "petty" ones. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968).
So what is "serious"? Well, a couple of years later, the Supreme Court decided that there was no right to a jury trial if the maximum authorized prison sentence did not exceed six months. Amazingly, going to jail for one-half year was not enough to justify giving a citizen a right to