People often think that all defendants in criminal matters have the option of having a jury trial, but this isn’t the case. There are several things that are required before a jury trial must occur. These are set by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article III, section 2 of the same document.
One of the limitations of the right to a jury trial is that misdemeanors won’t typically qualify for a jury trial because they aren’t considered serious matters from a legal perspective. In order to be qualified as a serious crime that would require a jury trial, the potential incarceration period must be at least six months.
Another point to remember is that multiple counts of misdemeanors or multiple misdemeanor charges probably won’t qualify for a jury trial either unless the potential penalty for any one of the criminal charges is more than six months. If a person is facing multiple charges, but none of them come with more than six months of incarceration possible, the case still isn’t considered serious enough to warrant a jury trial. If one of the charges is associated with a possible penalty of more than six months, a jury trial would be appropriate.
Interestingly, juveniles aren’t afforded the right to a jury trial (unless they are moved to adult court and tried as adults). This is because a jury is comprised of the peers of the defendant and juveniles aren’t considered mature enough to make these types of decisions. Instead, all juvenile cases are heard through bench trials, which means the judge hears both sides and makes decisions according to the applicable laws.
It is always important for defendants to know their rights when facing criminal charges. This can help them as they plan their defense strategy with their attorney.