You don’t often hear people talk about the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, that’s the one that addresses jury trials. Specifically, it says, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”
There are some exceptions. For example, cases in which young people are tried as juveniles don’t go before juries. For the most part, neither do cases that involve minor offenses. U.S. Supreme Court rulings have addressed how serious an offense needs to be for the accused to qualify for a jury trial.
What does Maryland law say?
Laws vary by state, however. Here in Maryland, a person can request a jury trial if they could face more than 90 days behind bars if convicted. Typically, these requests are made during the initial court appearance in district court. The judge has the right to deny a jury trial if the prosecutor agrees not to seek a sentence of that length.
Most criminal cases never go to trial. Defendants often reach plea deals with prosecutors where they plead guilty to a lesser crime than they’ve been charged with and typically get a lesser sentence than they could have received for their original charge. If every serious criminal case went to trial, prosecutors (and courts) would be overwhelmed, so they have an incentive to make a deal.
If you’re not guilty of the crime you’ve been charged with, however, you most likely want your “day in court” to present a defense and clear your name. It’s unlikely that prosecutors would be able to prove their case against you “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as required if you aren’t guilty of the offense.
Of course, each case is highly unique. That’s why it’s advisable to have experienced legal guidance so you can make an informed decision about how to go forward if you’ve been charged with a crime. It’s crucial to understand your rights as you make this decision.