D.C. Laws Strip Thousands of Criminal Defendants of Their Right to a Jury Trial. One D.C. Judge Has Suggested That Should Change.

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Last June, wrestling with one of the stranger aspects of D.C.’s criminal justice system, one of the city’s most powerful judges made an unusual move: He suggested that the D.C. Council perhaps made the wrong call. His concern was that in the vast majority of states, anyone who’s facing jail time has the right to a jury trial, in order to ensure that all convictions are as fair as possible. But thanks to a pair of largely forgotten laws the Council passed in the 1990s, most defendants in the District don’t have any right to be tried by a jury. In 2018, more than 98 percent of misdemeanor trials in the District were bench trials, meaning a judge made the decision and no jury was involved.

In his concurring opinion in the June 2018 D.C. Court of Appeals decision Bado v. U.S., Bill Clinton-appointed Judge Eric Washington bemoaned this state of affairs. Going to jail for even a few months, he explained, can be life-shattering. People lose their jobs. They lose their apartments. They lose custody of their children. A criminal record can make future employers turn their noses up, and if someone’s already on probation, one “short” sentence generally translates into a second, longer one. “Most states recognize that a jury trial in criminal cases is critically important because of the stigma that accompanies a criminal conviction,” Washington wrote, “and many of those states accept the fact that any period of incarceration, no matter how short, can have a devastating impact on one’s life and livelihood.”

Learn more – https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/city-desk/article/21086398/dc-laws-strip-thousands-of-criminal-defendants-of-their-right-to-a-jury-trial-one-dc-judge-has-suggested-that-should-change

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