Does The Defendant Have A Right To A Jury Trial?

An accused is guaranteed the right to a jury trial in serious crimes pursuant to the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, paragraph 9 of the New Jersey Constitution, as construed by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 159-161 (1968); State v. Hamm, 121 N.J. 109, 113-115 (1990), cert. denied, 499 U.S. 947 (1991). The line of demarcation between “petty” and “serious” offenses for purposes of determining whether the defendant has a right to a jury trial is that a “petty” offense carries a maximum authorized term of incarceration of not more than six months. Baldwin v. New York, 399 U.S. 66, 69-70 (1970).

In New Jersey, a jury trial is not required unless the maximum penalty to which the defendant is exposed exceeds six months incarceration and a $1,000 fine. In re Yengo, 84 N.J. 111, 121 (1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1124 (1981); State v. Owens, 54 N.J. 153, 157-158 (1969), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 1021 (1970); In re: Buehrer, 50 N.J. 501, 517-519 (1967). Thus, there is no jury trial right for persons charged with disorderly persons offenses or petty disorderly persons offenses under the New Jersey Criminal Code. N.J.S.A. 2C:1-4b. In New Jersey, a person may be tried without a jury on related petty offenses, and may be sentenced to concurrent jail sentences, as long as none of the sentences, individually or when aggregated exceeds six months. State v. Hamm, 121 N.J. at 112; State v. Owens, 54 N.J. at 163. The United States Supreme Court decided that a defendant facing trial on two or more “petty offenses” is not entitled to a jury trial, even if he or she potentially could be incarcerated for in excess of six months in the aggregate. Lewis v. United States, 518 U.S. 322, 116 S.Ct. 2163, 135 L.Ed.2d  590 (1996). However, even if the defendant, upon conviction, may be subject to a six month or less term of incarceration, the statutory penalties and the term of incarceration may be so severe that they clearly reflect a legislative determination that the offense is serious, and hence there is a right to trial by jury. Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas, Nevada, 489 U.S. 538, 542-543, 545 (1989). A 10 year license suspension, a fine of $1,000, incarceration for 180 days, and up to 90 days community service for a person convicted for a third driving while intoxicated offense does not trigger a jury trial right. State v. Hamm, 121 N.J. at 123-127.

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