The lawyers at the New York criminal defense firm Tilem & Campbell are taking notice of a law signed by Governor Jan Brewer on April 29, 2011 eliminates the right to a jury trial for first offenders charged with DWI’s and is viewed as a first step toward eliminating the fundamental right to a jury trial in all misdemeanors in the state. The move is expected to save the Court system money but so would the elimination of many of our fundamental rights.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution found in our Bill of Rights says “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State. . .” What appears to be a very clear constitutional right is not followed in all states.

In New York City for example a person can be tried without a jury, by a judge sitting alone, and sentenced to up to 6 months in jail if the crime they are accused of is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than 6 months in jail. Many prosecutors in New York will reduce a charge in order to take away ones right to a jury trial.

In New York, you are entitled to a jury trial on any DWI since you can be sentenced to up to one year in the jail upon conviction. However, since few people are sentenced to jail on DWI, especially a first arrest the New York State legislature can easily reduce the maximum sentence to six months so that a person accused of DWI in New York City loses his right to a jury trial. There is no right anywhere in New York State to a jury trial for those convicted of DWAI since DWAI is a traffic infraction, not a crime and punishable by only 90 days in jail.

The right to a jury trial is a valuable right and should not be taken for granted. We should all be vigilant that this apparent assault on our fundamental rights doesn’t spread further. Already there is a movement in Arizona to repeal this new law.

If you have any questions about DWI’s or your right to a jury trial please contact our office.

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