The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights provide many invaluable rights to citizens. Among the most important rights included in these documents is the right to a jury trial. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that defendants are entitled to “a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”
In New York, people who are facing certain misdemeanor charges are entitled to a jury that consists of six jurors. In New York City, individuals charged with “B” misdemeanors which carry a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail. May not be entitled to a jury trial. Although that issue has become more complicated with the the New York Court of Appeals ruling that immigrants facing deportation would be entitled to a jury trial even for a “B” misdemeanor. Defendants facing felony charges are entitled to a jury of 12 people. In misdemeanor and felony trials, all jurors must be unanimous before a defendant can be found guilty or not guilty. In the event that the jurors cannot come to a unanimous decision, the court will eventually declare a mistrial, and the prosecution will have the ability to retry the case.
All New York criminal cases are either heard by a judge or by a jury. A trial can be heard by a judge only if the defendant waives their right to a jury trial. This type of trial is commonly known as a “waiver” or “bench” trial. The decision whether to have a judge or a jury hear a case is one that rests with the defendant himself, rather than with his attorney. Of course, defendants often consult with a criminal defense attorney when making the decision because an experienced defense attorney can often provide valuable input. There are several reasons why a defendant may choose to have a judge hear their case rather than a jury.