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When Do You Have a Right to a Jury?

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 19, 2011 6:50 AM

One of the most common questions from those facing criminal prosecution is whether they have a right to a jury trial. And just what that right entails.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees "an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." The right is also limited to "all criminal prosecutions."

Though this seems pretty simple, over 200 years of interpretation have changed the meaning of this clause.

Right to a Jury: The Crime

The Supreme Court has interpreted "all criminal prosecutions" to mean "serious offenses." If charged with an offense punishable by less than six months, you are not entitled to a jury.

An aggregate sentence is also generally irrelevant if charged with a number of crimes. At least one charge must be a serious offense for a right to exist.

Keep in mind that this is the U.S. Constitution. Some state constitutions have gone farther and grant a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions.

Right to a Jury: Jury Numbers

Federal juries must consist of twelve persons. State juries must consist of at least six. A twelve-person jury does not need to be unanimous--nine votes will suffice. However, a six-person jury must unanimously find guilt.

Right to a Jury: Jury Impartiality

Impartiality is a dual requirement. First, a jury must represent a fair cross-section of the community. Second, jurors themselves must be unbiased.

Attorneys are tasked with ensuring an impartial jury through questioning and selection procedures.

As you can see, the right to a jury is a bit more complicated than it initially appears to be. If you still have questions, consider talking to a criminal defense attorney.

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