Our U.S. Senate race is grabbing the media attention, but the November ballot will contain a constitutional amendment for voters to decide. Carolina Journal’s Barry Smith reports.
Voters in November will be able to decide on a proposed constitutional amendment giving North Carolinians charged with a felony the option of waiving a jury trial and allowing a Superior Court judge to render a verdict.
Currently, the N.C. Constitution states that, in felony cases, “No person shall be convicted of any crime but by the unanimous verdict of a jury in open court.” Unlike many other states, the N.C. Constitution does not provide the option of a bench trial for felony defendants who prefer that alternative.
The proposed change would allow defendants in nondeath-penalty felony cases to request in writing, or state in open court, that they waive their right to a jury trial. A trial judge would have to grant consent for the request.
While the amendment passed the state House, 104-1, and the Senate, 44-0, some criminal defense attorneys have expressed concerns about the effect the change might have on indigent defendants or others who may not be able to afford expensive legal help.
Here’s more on why one attorney is concerned.
Eric Rowell, an attorney in Charlotte who was a prosecutor in South Carolina, said he’s concerned that if the amendment passes, the least advantaged might be the most hurt by the change.
“My primary concern is the potential for abuse,” Rowell said.
Rowell notes that people waive their legal rights all the time. “They waive their right to silence; they waive their Miranda rights; they waive their right to not have their vehicle searched,” Rowell said.
“I think it’s legitimate to ask what are the potential costs if this passes,” Rowell said. “My concern is not with people who can afford private counsel and can afford the best legal advice. My concern is the people who may take advantage of this waiver may be the people who do so not in their best interest.”