In November of this year, North Carolina voters will be asked to vote on an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution that would allow a person to forgo their right to a Superior Court trial by jury. At first glace this sounds like a great idea–it would help loosen the log jam that is in our courts and it would keep the flow of cases in our court system moving quickly. But what would it do to the rights of North Carolina residents?
The Sun Journal posted an article about this amendment on March 23. The article pointed out that State Representative Michael Speciale, R-Craven, was the only member of the North Carolina House of Representatives to vote against putting this on the ballot.
The article lists some of Representative Speciale’s reasons for his vote:
The question on the ballot, for which voters will pick “yes” or “no,” will read: “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.”
He said “The title of the bill SB399 is ‘An act to amend the constitution to provide that a person accused of any criminal offense in Superior Court for which the state is not seeking a sentence of death may waive the right to trial by jury and instead be tried by a judge.’”
…Speciale said, “The government is already taking our rights away; the last thing we need to do is give them up willingly. There is nothing good about it for the American citizen. A person could be coerced into signing by being held in nastier circumstances or being told that ‘if you don’t sign, a jury is going to convict you and send you a way for a long time.’”
He added: “This was one of the last bills passed in a flurry of bills and I’ve talked to people at a couple of organizations — Civitas and John Locke Foundation — who weren’t aware of it. They are looking at it and will get back to me. I just want to get word out that this is coming.”
What are the unintended consequences of passing this bill? Unfortunately this bill will result in a two-tiered justice system. Most of us ordinary citizens do not have an in-depth understanding of how our justice system works (I include myself in that category). Most of us do not have a high-powered lawyer that we can call if we are ever accused of a serious crime–we would have to rely on a public defender. Chances are that the public defender would ask us to waive our right to a jury trial–it would help with the overload of court cases and it would help with his workload. It is also quite possible that we might be under pressure from the court to waive the right to a jury trial. If we were in a high income bracket, we would have a different story–our high-powered lawyer would take us to trial and probably win the case. So what this bill will actually do is create a quickie justice system for the average American that may or may not be fair and a more precise justice system for the wealthier than average American. That is absolutely not what America is about.
Please keep your eyes open for more about SB399. I suspect that as we near the November election more information about this amendment will come out and people will begin to see the problems with it. Meanwhile, Michael Speciale will be making the rounds to do his part in informing the voters of North Carolina what this amendment would mean to all of us.