Jury trials are a cornerstone of the American judicial system. The idea of having a jury of your peers decide the outcome of your criminal trial is built into the very foundation of the law. However, for first-time offenders who have never been confronted with a criminal trial, demanding a jury trial may be confusing. Many defendants do not understand how juries are assembled or how they get one for their trial.
In many criminal cases, a trial by jury is guaranteed as a right. The United States Constitution and the Utah Constitution both include provisions for jury trials for criminal defendants. Depending on the nature of your charges, your right to a jury trial is unquestioned, and the court will go to great lengths to make sure a fair and impartial jury is assembled for your trial. However, there are circumstances in which a jury is not guaranteed, or you may want to waive your right to a jury.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense, call our Utah criminal defense lawyers for help. We can help you navigate the judicial process and invoke your right to a trial by jury. If need be, we can also help you waive this right and have an alternative trial. Call Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287 to set up a legal consultation free of charge.
Demanding a Jury Trial as a Right in Utah
In Utah and all other states, a criminal defendant has a right to a trial by jury. This right can be found in the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1 Section 10 of the Utah Constitution. In Utah specifically, jury trials exist in most, but not all, criminal cases. There are circumstances in which your right to a jury trial will be unquestioned. There are also circumstances in which you must assert this right, or it will be waived.
In Utah, according to Rule 17 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure, all felonies cases will be tried by a jury unless the defendant says otherwise. This means the court will always arrange a jury for felony trials unless the defendant says they do not want a jury and waive their right to one.
Jury trials work a bit differently for misdemeanor cases in Utah. A misdemeanor case will be tried without a jury unless the defendant explicitly invokes their right to a jury. This must be done in writing and at least 14 days before the trial begins.
When you demand a jury, you might be wondering how big the jury will be. The Utah Constitution spells out how large juries should be and how verdicts are reached. Different kinds of cases may consist of different sizes of juries. In capital cases, the jury must contain 12 people. For all other felonies, the jury must be no less than 8 people. Still, in other cases, the jury size may be determined by statute but may never be less than 4 people. Also, a verdict in criminal trials must be unanimous.
Call our Provo criminal defense lawyers today for help with your criminal trial and invoking your right to a jury.
When You Cannot Have a Trial by Jury in Utah
While jury trials are guaranteed as a right for felony trials, this is not the case for other criminal charges. In misdemeanor cases, the defendant has the right to a jury by request. In other cases, no jury may be provided at all. Speak to our St. George criminal defense attorneys about your case today and we can determine if you are entitled to a trial by jury.
For many misdemeanor cases, if the defendant does not request a jury at least 14 days before their trial is set to begin, their right to a jury is effectively waived. For such cases, the court will not gather a jury as a default rule. A jury will be assembled only if the defendant requests it. If a defendant fails to make the request on time, their right to a jury is waived.
For minor infractions, like traffic violations, jury trials are not used. If you are only charged with a small infraction, you have no right to a trial by jury in Utah. In these cases, juries cannot be requested as they are never provided. These are very minor offenses anyway, and they typically do not come with any serious jail time.
Waiving Your Right to a Trial by Jury in Utah
Although you may have a right to a trial by jury, you also have the option for a bench trial. A bench trial is when there is no jury and the judge takes on the jury’s role as factfinder. To secure a bench trial for your case, you have to waive your right to a jury.
Waiving your right to a jury in a felony case is not always easy. You may think that this decision is entirely within your control, but there are some barriers to overcome. Courts are very hesitant to allow defendants to waive such a crucial right. The judge will likely ask you a lot of questions to make sure that you know what you are doing when you waive your right to a jury. Similarly, the prosecutor may object to a bench trial. To waive your right to a jury, the court must approve and the prosecutor must consent.
Your right to a jury is more easily waived in a misdemeanor case. For misdemeanor cases in which the right to a jury is not guaranteed but may be requested, you do not have to formally waive your right. The standard procedure in a misdemeanor trial is to forego a jury. Juries are only provided by the defendant’s request. You can waive your right simply by not requesting a jury.
Contact our Provo criminal defense lawyer to discuss your right to a jury and whether waiving this right is a good idea for your case.
Alternatives to a Trial by Jury in Utah
As mentioned previously, the alternative to a trial by jury is a bench trial. This is when the judge acts as the jury and decides the final verdict. Even though you may have a right to a jury trial, a bench trial could give you certain advantages in certain kinds of cases.
A bench trial may work better for you in cases where the law is very complex or emotionally charged. Juries can be easily swayed by emotional or gruesome evidence. They also do not have legal training to understand complex legal issues.
Speak with our Sandy criminal defense attorneys about your case. We can help you figure out if a jury trial or a bench trial is right for you.
Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation
If you are facing criminal charges, call our West Valley City criminal defense attorneys immediately. We can help you through the complex legal processes of your trial and protect your rights in the process. For a free legal consultation, call Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287.