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Criminal Defense Lawyer in California : Understanding Your Right to a Jury Trial

Understanding Your State And Federal Constitutional Rights to a Jury Trial

The 6th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States holds that in all criminal proceedings the accused shall have the right to “an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

A very similar right is found in the California Constitution in Article 1, Section 16, which provides:

Trial by jury is an inviolate right and shall be secured to all, but in a civil cause three-fourths of the jury may render a verdict. A jury may be waived in a criminal cause by the consent of both parties expressed in open court by the defendant and the defendant's counsel.

The right to a jury trial is a way to prevent government oppression by having impartial “peers” decide the fate of an accused. It safeguards against heavy-handed and unfair prosecution as well as judges that may have bias. It prevents unchecked power and helps ensure an accused receives justice. 

It is important to remember that the role of the juror is to be the trier of fact. The judge's role is to instruct jurors on what the law is in each case, and following those instructions, the jury is to render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court. 

The right to a jury trial in the 6th Amendment only applies to criminal matters. The 7th Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury in certain federal civil matters, but it does not apply to state courts.

Contacting Law Office of Russell Babcock should be one of your first steps if you have been arrested in San Diego . Call us at 1-(619)-838-2695 today.

Benefits & Risks of a Jury Trial in a Criminal Case in California State Court and Federal Court 

Jury trials, while guaranteed in criminal cases by the Constitution, do not come without advantages and disadvantages. Some of the benefits of a trial by jury include:

  • Judges are prevented from having complete control over the outcome of a trial. While still in charge of the law that is applied in a case, the judge is no longer the trier of fact. 
  • Having a jury means the odds are in favor of the defendant as there are more chances for a favorable outcome. The only options are not just “guilty” and “not guilty,” as there may be a mistrial. 

Disadvantages to a trial by jury include:

  • Jurors are laymen, not trained in the law, and if the defendant's best defense is based on a complex legal concept, a jury trial may not be the best option. 
  • Jurors, while in theory are to be impartial, come to the courtroom with their own feelings, thought patterns, and biases. Whatever they hear and see during the trial will be processed based upon their own life experiences and beliefs.  
  • A jury is a group of people that is thrown together, and having a large, varied group come together and pay attention to every critical detail is a difficult task.
  • A judge at sentencing may give a defendant a harsher sentence than if a plea bargain had been accepted. 
  • Even with a very experienced attorney, the outcome of a jury trial is never certain.
  • Often proceeding to jury trial results in more legal costs than a plea bargain. Many law firms, including this one, have a two-tiered pricing system so that the client does not have to pay additional costs if the case does not proceed to trial

How a Criminal Defense Lawyer in San Diego Uses Voir Dire Strategically

A defendant has a right to a jury that is fair and impartial. To ensure this right is protected, there is a process known as voir dire which is utilized to screen prospective jurors. An effective criminal defense attorney will know how to use this process to find jurors that may be more sympathetic to their client's situation. They are able to do this by asking questions of potential jurors which exposes any prejudices or preconceived conclusions they may have. 

In state cases, the judges usually give more leeway in allowing the attorneys to ask questions of the jury.  The purpose of the questions is not to indoctrinate the jury on a theory of law but to eliminate jurors that cannot be fair in a particular case.  Both the prosecutor and the defense can  attempt to excuse jurors "for cause."  And then each side is allowed to exercise "peremptory challenges"- excusing jurors for tactical reasons. 

The defense attorney is not the only counsel allowed to use voir dire to determine who may be on the jury. The prosecution is allowed to do the same to keep the process fair to both parties.

At the Law Office of Russell Babcock , we are prepared to proceed to trial when requested by a client.  Russell Babcock has conducted more than one hundred jury trials during his career including murder, narcotic and drug cases, alien smuggling, money laundering, and virtually every state and federal criminal charge in the courts of San Diego, El Centro, and other federal courts. Learn how we can help you today by scheduling a free consultation--either online or by calling 1-(619)-838-2695.

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