If you are facing charges for drug crimes, violent crimes or even drunk driving, you certainly want a fair chance at defending yourself against the charges. The penalties for any crimes can mean a serious disruption to your life, perhaps for years or decades. As you move through the criminal justice system, you want to make sure you have every opportunity and every possible advantage for avoiding those penalties.
However, does this mean a jury trial is in your future? You may have decided to reject any offers of a plea bargain from the prosecution, but what can you expect for the rest of your case? When is a jury trial appropriate, and what do the laws of Minnesota and the U.S. Constitution really offer to protect your right to a fair outcome for your case?
Consider every option
While states each have their own laws and traditions when it comes to legal matters, in general, anyone facing criminal charges has the right to face a jury. In fact, the Constitution explicitly gives you that right. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, decided that this applies only to serious crimes, not to minor crimes.
If your case is going to trial, it may play out in one of two ways. Either you will face a jury, or a single judge will hear and decide your case. Several factors will help determine which will apply to you:
- Depending on the circumstances of your alleged offense, if you are a juvenile, your case will likely take place in juvenile court, so you will not have a jury trial.
- Any crime that carries a sentence of incarceration will go before a jury.
- You have the right to a jury trial, but you may also waive that right and opt for a trial in front of a single judge.
- If the charges you face could lead to your deportation because of your immigration status, even if these are minor crimes, you have the right to a trial by jury.
- In Minnesota, a petty misdemeanor is not a crime, by definition. There is no right to a jury for these offenses.
Making the decision to waive your right to a jury trial is a serious choice and one you should not make until you fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of such a move. Having a skilled lawyer advise you on your options may improve the chances of reaching the most positive resolution possible for your situation.