A proposed North Carolina Constitutional amendment, allowing criminal defendants charged with felonies to reject a jury trial in favor of a trial by a single Superior Court Judge will appear on the November ballot. If voters pass the amendment, a judge, rather than a jury of their peers, could decide both evidentiary issues as well as guilt or innocence. If the amendment passes, it will allow defendants a tactical choice, particularly in trials involving crimes which may inspire great prejudice in jurors. However, it would assume the fairness and impartiality of a single judge, who would also rule on evidentiary issues, including the exclusion of improper or overly prejudicial or irrelevant evidence. This model is currently utilized in district court, by hundreds of North Carolina District Court Judges presiding over misdemeanor cases. However, in every district court case, a defendant retains the current Constitutional right to appeal the Court’s decision and present the case de novo, or as new, before a jury. Although there are advantages and disadvantages to both systems, one of the most important functions of a jury is the defendant’s ability to appeal to the diverse personalities and backgrounds of twelve juror citizens. A felony trial decided by a single judicial official may be a sound tactical choice in some cases, however, critics are quick to point out that a trial decided by a superior court judge is certainly not a “trial by one’s peers.” Proponents of the amendment point toward the fact that the amendment does not restrict an individual’s rights. Should the amendment pass, the State hopes it will be another avenue to cut prosecution costs. Capital trials, where prosecutors seek the death penalty for first degree murder offenses, would remain solely in the purview of jurors. The attorneys at Garrett, Walker and Aycoth will stay up to date on every tactical trial advantage when it comes to securing your rights and freedoms.
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