The following is taken from Michael Speciale’s website:
On the November ballot you will be asked to vote on a change to the North Carolina Constitution. The change is to allow individuals who appear in Superior Court, in cases where the State is NOT pursuing the death penalty, to waive their right to a trial by jury. With the approval of the Judge, they will go in front of a Judge only. The question on the ballot will be as follows:
[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST
Constitutional Amendment providing that a person accused of any criminal offense for which the State is not seeking a sentence of death in Superior Court may, in writing or on the record in court and with the consent of the trial Judge, waive the person’s right to a trial by jury.
To some, the proposed amendment seems benign. It seems like no big deal, until you look at the ramifications, the precedence being set, and the liberty safeguards being forfeited.
Next to our 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms, whose inclusion into the Bill of Rights was intended to ensure that we the people had the ability to fight a tyrannical government, our 6th Amendment right to trial by jury is the next most important right that we have.
This right is another measure to ensure that we can overcome a tyrannical government because juries have the power to judge the law as well as the facts of a case.
What would be the purpose of this amendment? I can only reason that its purpose is intended to clear the backlog of cases. On whose backs will this come? The State would like to cut down on costs for providing legal defense to the indigent. Sadly, they will be the ones targeted because disposing of their cases by a Judge alone is generally quicker and cheaper than dragging out a Jury Trial.
Let’s take a look at a couple scenarios to determine what could happen:
1. Promises and Coercion: The indigent defendant is sitting in their cell awaiting trial because they cannot afford bail. They are approached by an officer of the court and the conversation goes like this: “It will likely be months before we can get you in front of a jury, but if you sign this waiver, we can get you in front of Judge so-and-so in a week or two. He’s usually pretty lenient in cases like yours.” What do you think the defendant is likely to do? He wants out of the cell; he wants his freedom. He is likely to sign the waiver under the belief that he will be out of there quicker, and with a lighter sentence. It is not likely that all will go as promised.
2. Juries have the right to judge the law as well as the facts of the case. That means that, even though you may be guilty of violating a law as written, the jury may choose not to convict you because they believe the law to be a bad one, or they believe that the law simply should not apply in your case due to mitigating, extenuating, or exigent circumstances. This is called Nullification, and a Judge is not likely to consider this.
3. What about Justice? The powerful and the politically connected commit crimes like everyone else. Picture a Senator or other powerful individual manipulating the system by choosing to waive his/her right to a jury trial in order to get in front of a Judge that he/she knows, such as a friend, a supporter, or someone who owes a favor. Justice would not be served in this case.
4. When the government gets their ‘foot in the door’ the next step is to kick it wide open. Think of the seat belt law. In order to calm public opinion when the seat belt law was being considered, we the people were told that this would be a secondary offence. In other words, we would not be pulled over just for a seat belt violation, but we could be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt if we were pulled over for another offence. The reality is that shortly after the law was passed, it was changed to make it a primary offence. Just like that, once this amendment is passed, after a short time I can easily envision a change making it no longer a choice in certain cases, but a mandate. I can envision the law being changed to state that if you are charged with certain crimes, those particular crimes will no longer allow trial by jury, but will be tried in front of a Judge only. Can you see it?
We are losing our rights by the day, and we should not just give them away. I voted NO on the bill to put this on the ballot.
I recommend that you vote NO on the amendment.
Representative Larry Pittman has released the following statement:
[…] Last year, all of us except Rep. Michael Speciale messed up on a bill
that was brought to the floor for a vote when some of us had never
seen it. It was heard in committee that morning and brought to us in
the afternoon session.
I really didn’t get a chance to study it for more than a few minutes.
Sometimes there are just so many bills in the
queue, especially the last few days of the session, that if you are
trying to study as many as you can as closely as you can, there will
be some you don’t get to study that closely before they go through
committee. So you listen to the debate and try to read the bill as it
is being debated, and make the best decision you can, based on the
On this one, there really was not much of a debate.
We were told by its House sponsors how great it was and how it would
enhance the rights of the accused in court proceedings. It was SB 399.
The whole Senate, and everyone in the House except Rep. Speciale,
voted for it. You will see it as a constitutional amendment on your
ballot in the election this November. I am asking you to correct our
mistake and vote NO on this proposed amendment. Thank goodness for Rep. Speciale for seeing through it and pointing
out to me how bad it actually is. I just wish he could have had the
chance before it was too late for the vote. I guess he didn’t speak
against it on the floor because he thought it was so bad it didn’t
have a chance to pass. Our District Attorney here in Cabarrus County
has also spoken out publicly against this very bad amendment. Please
vote against it.[…]
We as the voters have a chance to vote against this amendment. Many of our legislators and state officials are now speaking out against the amendment, saying that it takes away a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Please vote no.