Understanding Your Constitutional Right to a Jury Trial
The 6th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States holds that in all criminal proceedings the accused shall have the right to “an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” The Georgia Constitution of 1983 states, "The right to trial by jury shall remain inviolate...In criminal cases, the defendant shall have a public and speedy trial by an impartial jury; and the jury shall be the judges of the law and the facts." See, Art. I., § I, ¶ XI of the Georgia Constitution of 1983.
The right to a jury trial is a way to prevent government oppression by having impartial “peers” decide the fate of an accused. It safeguards against heavy-handed and unfair prosecution as well as judges that may have bias. It prevents unchecked power and helps ensure an accused receives justice.
It is important to remember that the role of the juror is to be the trier of fact. The judge's role is to instruct jurors on what the law is in each case, and following those instructions, the jury is to render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court.
The right to a jury trial in the 6th Amendment only applies to criminal matters.
Benefits & Risks of a Jury Trial in a Criminal Case in Georgia
Jury trials, while guaranteed in criminal cases by the Constitution, do not come without advantages and disadvantages. Some of the benefits of a trial by jury include:
- Judges are prevented from having complete control over the outcome of a trial. While still in charge of the law that is applied in a case, the judge is no longer the trier of fact.
- Having a jury means the odds are in favor of the defendant as there are more chances for a favorable outcome. The only options are not just “guilty” and “not guilty,” as there may be a mistrial or a hung jury (where the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict).
Disadvantages to a trial by jury include:
- Jurors are laymen, not trained in the law, and if the defendant's best defense is based on a complex legal concept, a jury trial may not be the best option.
- Jurors, while in theory are to be impartial, come to the courtroom with their own feelings, thought patterns, and biases. Whatever they hear and see during the trial will be processed based upon their own life experiences and beliefs.
- A jury is a group of people that is thrown together, and having a large, varied group come together and pay attention to every critical detail is a difficult task.
How Brett Willis Uses Voir Dire Strategically
A defendant has a right to a jury that is fair and impartial. To ensure this right is protected, there is a process known as voir dire which is utilized to screen prospective jurors. An effective criminal defense attorney will know how to use this process to find jurors that may be more sympathetic to their client's situation. They are able to do this by asking questions of potential jurors which exposes any prejudices or preconceived conclusions they may have. This is an art form.
Simply put, Brett Willis is an expert in voir dire. Criminal defense organizations around the country fly Brett in specifically to teach their lawyers how he does voir dire. Some of these organizations include:
- The National Criminal Defense College
- The Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
- The Georgia Public Defender Council
- Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
- The New Hampshire Public Defenders
- The Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers