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

When a person is charged with a crime in California, a right to a jury trial almost always applies. Understanding what this right means and its limitations can help you better prepare for your criminal case.

At The Law Office of Richard Wagner, criminal defense lawyer Richard Wagner takes the right to a jury trial seriously. He explains its importance and potential concerns to each client according to each client's unique situation.  

Attorney Wagner aims to provide comprehensive, proactive, and smart criminal defense. Contact Richard Wagner, Attorney at Law, at (714) 721-4423 today if you have been arrested or charged with a criminal offense in Orange County. Schedule a FREE PRIVATE CONSULTATION and discuss your case.

Understanding Your Constitutional Right to a Jury Trial

The 6th Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution control the right to jury trial 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.” However, you do not have a right to a jury trial for an infraction. The right to a trial by jury applies in felony and misdemeanor cases. 

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 who may have bias. It prevents unchecked power and helps ensure justice prevails. 

The right to a jury trial developed as protection against government oppression. The jury trial is a very effective way to challenge criminal charges.

The right to a jury trial under the 6th Amendment applies to criminal matters. It applies to state cases through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

 California Constitution article I, Section 16, says,

Trial by jury is an inviolate right and shall be secured to all, .... 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.

In criminal actions in which a felony is charged, the jury shall consist of 12 persons. In criminal actions in which a misdemeanor is charged, the jury shall consist of 12 persons or a lesser number agreed on by the parties in open court.

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 jury verdict in a criminal case must be unanimous.

Jury Trial Benefits and Risks in California Criminal Cases

Jury trials, while guaranteed in criminal cases by the Constitution, do not come without advantages and disadvantages.

Two important benefits of a trial by jury include:

  1. Judges have limits. 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. The judge must not become an advocate of either party. Judges have a duty to be impartial and to make sure that the defendant in a criminal case is given a fair trial.
  2. Additional possible outcomes are available. Having a jury trial means the odds can tip in favor of the defendant for a favorable outcome. The options of “guilty” and “not guilty” are now broadened to include a mistrial, hung jury, and acquittal.   

Disadvantages of 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 should be impartial, still may come to the courtroom with their own feelings, thought patterns, and biases. Whatever they hear and see during the trial will be processed based on their own life experiences and beliefs.  
  • A jury is a group of people who are thrown together. Having a large, varied group come together and pay attention to every critical detail is a difficult task.

How a Criminal Defense Lawyer in California 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 that is utilized to select prospective jurors. Voir dire is also known as jury selection. It is when individual jurors are questioned before a jury is selected.

An effective criminal defense attorney will know how to use this process to find jurors who may be more sympathetic to their client's case. They are able to do this by asking questions of potential jurors, which exposes any prejudices or preconceived conclusions they may have. 

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.

A lawyer may challenge a jury for cause on the grounds that a juror is disqualified from serving in a particular case or that there is implied or actual bias.

The defense attorney or prosecutor can remove a jury using a peremptory challenge. The lawyers do not need to give a reason when excusing a juror using a peremptory challenge. Each side gets a limited number of peremptory challenges, depending on the type of case. For example, if you are charged with a crime punishable by a maximum of 365 days or less in jail, each side gets six peremptory challenges.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Orange County Today

Attorney Richard Wagner has successfully defended clients and preserved their rights. Learn how The Law Office of Richard Wagner can help you today by scheduling a FREE PRIVATE CONSULTATION either online or by calling (714) 721-4423.