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Do I Have the Right to a Trial by Jury?


Following your arrest, you may have many questions about what happens next in the criminal process. Undoubtedly, police and prosecuting attorneys have explained to you the evidence they have against you, and they may even try to convince you to accept a plea deal. However, you may wish for an opportunity to dispute the evidence in court.

If you remember your history lessons, you know that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial and an impartial jury. You may be looking forward to your chance to face a jury, but you should first understand the limitations to that right and determine whether your case is eligible for a jury trial.

Who Will Hear My Case?

Most criminal cases do not reach a jury because the defendants negotiate plea bargains. However, your attorney may not recommend this approach, especially if the evidence against you can be disputed. On the other hand, certain factors may disqualify your case from a jury trial.

For example, criminal offenses by youths are handled in the juvenile justice system instead of a criminal proceeding. There are no jury trials in juvenile cases.

If you are facing charges for a petty crime or infraction that carries a sentence of less than six months in jail if convicted, a single judge will hear your case instead of a jury. You also have the option under California law to waive your right to a jury trial if the prosecutor agrees.

Which Is Right for Me?

Many states allow trials by jury in their constitutions, even for lesser crimes. However, because this tends to clog up the court systems, it is more common for those accused of lesser crimes to face a single judge if they do not reach a plea deal. On the other hand, if you are a non-citizen in the country through the U.S. immigration system, a conviction for a crime may place you at risk of deportation. For this reason, you have the right to a jury trial even for petty crimes.

No matter the severity of the offense you are facing, you want to be certain you make the right decisions about how your case will proceed. Will you accept a deal, defend yourself before a judge or present your case to a jury? It is important to have sound legal advice from an attorney who has reviewed your case and examined the evidence against you. Your attorney will help you decide which process offers the best advantage for the most positive outcome.

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