A defendant in a criminal prosecution is guaranteed the right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution unless the prosecution is for a petty offense. A petty offense is defined as an offense that carries a penalty of no more than six months in jail. The right to a jury trial applies to federal and state offenses. In addition, most states have enacted constitutional provisions and statutes that guarantee a defendant the right to a jury trial.
A defendant is entitled to a jury trial for a felony. The defendant may also be entitled to a jury trial for a misdemeanor if the misdemeanor carries a penalty of more than six months in jail or if the misdemeanor could result in additional penalties.
The right to a jury trial requires that jurors shall be impartial. Jurors are impartial if they can set aside their impressions or opinions and can render a verdict based upon the evidence that is presented at trial. If a defendant or his or her counsel believes that jurors may be impartial as a result of pretrial publicity, the defendant’s counsel may file a motion for a change of venue or for a continuance. If the defendant or his or her counsel believes that a particular juror may be biased, the defendant’s counsel may challenge the particular juror for cause during the jury selection process. The impartiality of the jurors can be affected during trial as a result of juror misconduct, improper procedure, or prejudicial or improper evidence being admitted in the presence of the jurors.
The right to a jury trial includes the right to be tried by the required number of jurors. Although the United States Constitution does not require a 12-person jury, most states require 12 jurors for the prosecution of a felony and six jurors for the prosecution of a misdemeanor. If the defendant is entitled to a certain number of jurors under his or her state’s statutes, the defendant’s right to a jury trial is denied if he or she is tried by less than the required number of jurors. However, the required number of jurors may be waived with the consent of the defendant, which consent should be in writing.
In some states, a defendant is entitled to demand a jury trial in a bond forfeiture hearing or in a hearing to determine the defendant’s competency to stand trial. But, the right to a jury trial does not apply to probation revocation hearings.