Prosecutors Fight for an End to Jury Trials

There are few things as frustrating to many judges as having to let a time-consuming jury take away their power to decide the case. And nothing so frustrating to any prosecutor than 12 citizens standing between him and a conviction. As I mentioned a few days ago in "Arizona Denies Right to Jury Trial in DUI Cases", the Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled that defendants charged with certain misdemeanors — primarily DUI — are not constitutionally entitled to a jury trial.

The problem is that there is a statute in Arizona which specifically entitles the defendant to a jury trial in DUI cases. But judges and prosecutors have now joined forces in an attempt to deny the citizens of Arizona their legal right to a jury trial if charged with drunk driving. As reported in The Arizona Republic (February 7, 2005):

Prosecutors and municipal court judges in Arizona are now pushing to eliminate the right to a jury trial for misdemeanor drunk-driving charges in the wake of an Arizona Supreme Court decision….

The opinion was published Jan. 14 , and since then, prosecutors in Gilbert, Mesa, and Bullhead City have already asked that DUI jury trials be canceled, and municipal court judges and magistrates in Phoenix and Tucson have already canceled some, pending hearings or a clarification from a higher court. The prosecutors are certain they'll prevail and defense attorneys fear they will. The main obstacle is a state statute that explicitly grants jury trials in DUI cases. At question now is whether that statute is rendered moot….

In response to [an earlier court decision], the Arizona legislature amended the DUI laws, saying in statute 28-1381 (f) that "the defendant may request a trial by jury and that the request, if made, shall be granted."….

Jury trials are expensive and use up time and court resources. "Sometimes we prepare for a jury trial and at the last minute the defendant wants to plead before the court," said Mary Stringer, Magistrate in the Bullhead City Court. "So we have all the jurors on stand-by and the logistics of it are very often time consuming."

Prosecutors don't care for misdemeanor jury trials either, because they take more time to prepare than bench trials — and because they're more likely to end in acquittal.

Costly….Time-consuming….More likely to result in acquittal. Of course, we could just eliminate trials altogether, and have the person arrested immediately sentenced, resulting in even greater savings of money, time — and those irritating acquittals.

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