This was posted on Facebook by the Republican Liberty Caucus of North Carolina. When you vote in North Carolina, please keep in mind that a trial by jury is a right guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution.
Waive Right to Trial by Jury
As you may or may not have heard by now, on Election Day, November 4th 2014 there will be an amendment on the ballot left for North Carolina Voters to decide on. The Amendment, if passed, would amend the Constitution regarding jury trials in non death penalty cases. Instead of having a jury trial as mandated in the current form of the constitution, this would allow a defendant to waive his right to a jury trial and opt instead for a bench trial (with judicial allowance) and the case would then go before the NC Superior Court.
While the legislatively referred amendment may seem to lack fanfare or immediate consequence, there always remains the lingering possible negative consequences of “tinkering” with defendant rights and the judicial system. I would recommend folks look into this issue by referring to it’s Senate Bill # SB 399; which was sponsored by Peter Brunstetter. (This passed in the house overwhelmingly, with only one hold out vote cast by Michael Speciale.)
Consider the careful and thoughtful intent our Founding Fathers placed into writing the US Constitution, their foresight into matters such as these is absolutely relevant still today. In the Declaration of Independence a major grievance was the deprivation or jury trials in matter dealing with Great Britain, and detainment without trial. (We know the rest of the story so I will spare you the political history soapbox) However, fast forward to our modern system of criminal justice and even our Federal system has now adopted the right to waive a jury (in certain cases) to opt for a bench trial. In fact 49/50 states have this option (though statutes and limitations on this vary by state) so North Carolina is the last hold out; and to be perfectly honest and to inject my personal thoughts here, I truly think it is something to be proud of. We have maintained over the years that the right to jury trial is the best form of justice for defendants.
Some of the issues which have been raised to counter this Amendment include cases such as White Collar crimes and Fraud, bankers, political boosters, lobbyists, Insurance and Securities fraud etc. because of potential close relationships these types of defendants may have with certain judges or prosecutors. One case Nicole Revels brought up was the one in which the heir to the DuPont fortune was accused (and supposedly later admitted) to child molestation of one of his own children (he was accused of molesting two of his own children) he was granted a bench trial and sentenced to serve time, which was quickly after repealed by the judge with the explanation or excuse that he would not “fare well” in prison.
The other side of the rich and wealthy are the indigent, and low IQ defendants who already often admit to crimes they have not committed. If this option (to waive a jury) were to be taken away, perhaps a more sympathetic jury would not get to consider circumstances in which would either influence a lighter sentence (or even give the jury the option to nullify the case) I have been trying to find an old case I studied while in Criminal Law class at Campbell. I recall that there was a case in which an African American man with a fairly low IQ (and possibly some learning disorder) had seen a class where you could order away for information to become a private detective (he also at a certain point obtained a handgun) at some point later he went to the police station (possibly to talk to someone about being a “detective”) and either he disclosed that he had the gun, or it was found. It went to trial and he was facing a lengthy sentence. The case ended up being Nullified as the sympathetic jury decided he was not intending harm, and in fact was not able to even comprehend properly the laws and regulations. (No one was hurt and no violent crime happened here) I fear this man would have had the book thrown at him if he had gone in front of a judge.
Our prisons are already overpopulated with minority youths, many of which are serving very lengthy sentences because of possession charges or other non-violent crimes. Many of these defendants plea out, but for the ones who do not, I believe the Founding Fathers had the vision and capacity to understand that a jury of one’s own peers would be best fit to decide a sentence (if any at all) or find them not guilty. This amendment, in a perfect world, may just give defendants a fair option to make their own decision. However, the possibility to persuade or sway defendant’s in an intended direction remains a great risk to liberty. Most voters will not have even heard about this amendment when they go vote on November 4th, and they may just pick a quick answer, move on and never think twice about it. I think our Voters deserve more information, and more transparency. No matter what stance you take, I believe we need to educate and get the word out about SB 399, before it slips past us.