Tags: Criminal law, Trial by jury
The case of Duncan v. Louisiana involved a Black man named Gary Duncan who was convicted of simple battery in Louisiana and denied a trial by jury. Louisiana law only allowed jury trials in cases where capital punishment or imprisonment at hard labor may be imposed. Duncan appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, but was denied. He then sought review in the US Supreme Court, alleging that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments secure the right to a jury trial in state criminal prosecutions where a sentence as long as two years may be imposed. The Supreme Court has established that the right to trial by jury in criminal cases is fundamental to the American scheme of justice and is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment in federal court. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees this right against state action. The founders of English law ensured that every accusation would be confirmed by the unanimous suffrage of twelve impartial jurors.
The right to a jury trial in serious criminal cases is a fundamental right guaranteed by state constitutions and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Recent studies show that juries are effective in understanding evidence and coming to sound conclusions. Waivers of jury trial and prosecution of petty crimes without a jury are acceptable. A crime punishable by up to two years in prison is considered a serious crime and not a petty offense, and therefore, the defendant was entitled to a jury trial. It was an error to deny it, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
The right to trial by jury is guaranteed by the Constitution and the Sixth Amendment in federal courts and also by the Fourteenth Amendment to defendants tried in state courts. The author argues that the phrase "privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" in the Fourteenth Amendment includes the protections of the Bill of Rights. The Due Process Clause should guarantee a trial under the general law of the land to all. The Court defined "liberty" as important freedoms and fair procedures enforced through the Due Process Clause. Fundamental rights are embraced within the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court's approach lacks internal logic, and the lower court did not err.
The Court is deciding if the defendant's state conviction for simple assault without a jury denied due process. The author questions if trial by jury is a fundamental right in all criminal cases and believes states should be allowed to adjust their procedures. The dissenting opinion would affirm the judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana.
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