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GOING TO TRIAL IN A NEW YORK LOCAL CRIMINAL COURT – WHEN ARE YOU ENTITLED TO A JURY TRIAL?

So you’ve decided to take your New York criminal case to trial. The People’s plea offer is unacceptable and your attorney, after carefully weighing the odds and risks, has advised you to reject the People’s offer and go to trial. As I said in my last blog, at the New York criminal defense law firm of Tilem & Campbell, if we take a New York criminal case to trial, we generally advise our clients to have a jury trial instead of a being tried by a single judge. So what happens next? How does a New York criminal trial proceed in a local criminal court?

Where a defendant is charged in a local criminal court with a misdemeanor, he or she is entitled to a jury trial. However, within New York City, one charged with a misdemeanor is only entitled to a jury trial if the potential sentence is more that six months. CPL § 340.40(2). The right to a jury trial in misdemeanor cases is statutory only as the New York State Constitution does not provide a right to a jury trial where the charges are less than a felony. People v. Erickson, 302 N.Y. 461, 99 N.E.2d 240 (1951); see also Article I, § 2 and Article VI, § 18 of the NYS Constitution; NY Civil Rights Law § 12 (In all criminal prosecutions, the accused has a right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury. However, it has been held that this section only guarantees the same right to trial found in the Sixth Amendment to the federal constitution and that right only applies where a defendant is facing more than six months incarceration).

However, the statutory right to a jury trial in misdemeanor cases in New York was passed by the Legislature in response to the United States Supreme court’s 1970 ruling in Baldwin v. New York, which essentially held that the Sixth Amendment to the
federal constitution requires a jury trial where the defendant is facing more than six months imprisonment. 399 U.S. 66, 90 S.Ct. 1886, 26 L.Ed.2d 437 (1970). Therefore, the right to a jury trial in New York where the defendant is facing more than six months incarceration is mandated by the Sixth Amendment to the federal constitution. To summarize, New York provides for a jury trial in all misdemeanor and felony cases. Except, in New York City, where one is only entitled to a jury trial on a misdemeanor where one is facing more than six months incarceration.

At any time before trial, a defendant may waive his or her right to a jury trial and consent to be tried by a single judge. CPL § 340.40(2). A defendant in local criminal court is not entitled to a jury trial if the charge is only a violation such as most traffic infractions and disorderly conduct. However, if a defendant is charged with both a misdemeanor and a violation and chooses a jury trial, then both the misdemeanor and the violation will be heard by the jury. In such a circumstance, the judge does not decide the violation while the jury decides the misdemeanor. Instead, the jury will decide both. CPL § 340.40(3).

There is one exception to a defendant’s right to a jury trial in local criminal court where the charge is a misdemeanor. Where the defendant is eligible for a youthful offender adjudication and has never been previously convicted of a crime or been adjudicated a youthful offender, the case must be tried by a single judge; not a jury. CPL § 340.40(7).

If you are charged in a local or city court such as those found in Yonkers, Mamaroneck, Harrison, Larchmont, Eastchester, New Rochelle, White Plains, Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry and others, contact Tilem & Campbell for a free consultation.