Article III, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution of the United States states:
The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the State where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed.
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury . . .
The Sixth Amendment was made applicable to the various states through the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Connecticut Constitution, in Article I, Section 8 states:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have a right … in all prosecutions by indictment or information, to a speedy, public trial by an impartial jury.
This is further codified in Connecticut law in both the practice book and the general statutes. C.G.S. 54-82b provides:
(a) The party accused in a criminal action in the Superior Court may demand a trial by jury of issues which are triable of right by a jury. […]
(b) In criminal proceedings the judge shall advise the accused of his right to trial by jury at the time he is put to plea and, if the accused does not then claim a jury, his right thereto shall be deemed waived, but if a judge acting on motion made by the accused within ten days after judgment finds that such waiver was made when the accused was not fully cognizant of his rights or when, in the opinion of the judge, the proper administration of justice requires it, the judge shall vacate the judgment and cause the proceeding to be set for jury trial.
Practice Book Section 42-1 provides:
The defendant in a criminal action may demand a trial by jury of issues which are triable of right by jury. If at the time the defendant is put to plea, he or she elects a trial by the court, the judicial authority shall advise the defendant of his or her right to a trial by jury and that a failure to elect a jury trial at that time may constitute a waiver of that right. If the defendant does not then elect a jury trial, the defendant’s right thereto may be deemed to have been waived.
The reason I mention all of this is that the other day, I was reading Mark Bennett’s series of interesting posts on jury selection in Texas. He was in the courtroom, not as a participant in the process, and reported the entire voir dire conducted by the prosecutor and pro-se defendant. In his final post, I noted this (which is Mark’s narration of the pro-se defendant speaking to the venirepersons):
AP [prosecutor] is new here, and I had agreed to have case before the judge (objection overruled). I was comfortable with the court system. The court called me a week later . . . (objection sustained). (State refused to waive jury? WTF, AP?)
That got me thinking. As evidenced by the Constitutional provisions listed above, I’ve always believed that the right to trial by jury is the defendant’s and defendant’s alone. Was I mistaken? So I tried to locate the relevant jury waiver provision in Texas’ criminal code. This is what I found:
Art. 1.13. WAIVER OF TRIAL BY JURY. (a) The defendant in a criminal prosecution for any offense other than a capital felony case in which the State notifies the court and the defendant that it will seek the death penalty shall have the right, upon entering a plea, to waive the right of trial by jury, conditioned, however, that such waiver must be made in person by the defendant in writing in open court with the consent and approval of the court, and the attorney representing the State. The consent and approval by the court shall be entered of record on the minutes of the court, and the consent and approval of the attorney representing the State shall be in writing, signed by him, and filed in the papers of the cause before the defendant enters his plea.
(b) In a capital felony case in which the attorney representing the State notifies the court and the defendant that it will not seek the death penalty, the defendant may waive the right to trial by jury but only if the attorney representing the State, in writing and in open court, consents to the waiver.
That’s certainly a little strange. What confounds the matter further is the very next provision:
Art. 1.14. WAIVER OF RIGHTS. (a) The defendant in a criminal prosecution for any offense may waive any rights secured him by law except that a defendant in a capital felony case may waive the right of trial by jury only in the manner permitted by Article 1.13(b) of this code.
But what of Article 1.13(a), which lays out the procedure for waiving a jury in a non-capital case? All the language I could find in constitutional jurisprudence assigned the right to a trial by jury to the defendant only. Take, for example, Patton v. United States, a case in which the defense and prosecution agreed to have the defendant tried by 11 instead of 12, after one juror fell sick. Justice Sutherland, for the majority, wrote:
We come, then, to the crucial inquiry: Is the effect of the constitutional provisions in respect of trial by jury to establish a tribunal as a part of the frame of government, or only to guaranty to the accused the right to such a trial? If the former, the question certified by the lower court must, without more, be answered in the negative.
In the light of the foregoing it is reasonable to conclude that the framers of the Constitution simply were intent upon preserving the right of trial by jury primarily for the protection of the accused. If not, and their intention went beyond this and included the purpose of establishing the jury for the trial of crimes as an integral and inseparable part of the court, instead of one of its instrumentalities, it is strange that nothing to that effect appears in contemporaneous literature or in any of the debates or innumerable discussions of the time. This is all the more remarkable when we recall the minute scrutiny to which every provision of the proposed Constitution was subjected. The reasonable inference is that the concern of the framers of the Constitution was to make clear that the right of trial by jury should remain inviolable, to which end no language was deemed too imperative. That this was the purpose of the Third Article is rendered highly probable by a consideration of the form of expression used in the Sixth Amendment.
The Court then concludes:
Upon this view of the constitutional provisions we conclude that Article III, Section 2, is not jurisdictional, but was meant to confer a right upon the accused which he may forego at his election. To deny his power to do so, is to convert a privilege into an imperative requirement.
Lending further support to the argument that the right is the defendant’s alone is the court’s discussion of the ability of the defendant to waive any damn right he pleases:
A defendant is supposed to understand his rights, and may be aided, if he so desires, by counsel to advise him. There are many legal provisions for his security and benefit which he may dispense with absolutely, as, for instance, his right to plead guilty and submit to sentence without any trial whatsoever.
So how does one square this core Constitutional right, which by all accounts, seems to be confer the benefit solely on the defendant along with the ability to waive this right if he so chooses, with what appears to be a prohibition in Texas on the waiver of this right without the permission of the State? Have I misread Texas’ statute? Perhaps Mark can chime in here and clarify things. Do other states have a similar requirement?
[Note: I know that caselaw establishes there is no fundamental right to trial by jury where the punishment does not exceed six months and yes, death is different and in capital cases, the consent of all parties is required to waive a jury.]
[Note 2: If nothing else, the Patton case and State v. Gannon – a 1902 Connecticut case – make for fascinating reading. They both explore the deep and rich history of the Constitution and their underpinnings of the right to a jury trial and the process by which that right came to be recognized.]