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Excerpted From: Georgetown University and The Georgetown Law Journal, Right to a Jury Trial, 49 Georgetown Law Journal Annual Review of Criminal Procedure 643 (2020)(97 Footnotes) (Full Document)
Under the Sixth Amendment, criminal defendants have a right to trial by an impartial jury drawn from the state and district where the crime allegedly occurred. The right to a jury trial exists only in prosecutions for serious crimes, as distinguished from petty offenses. In determining whether a crime is “serious” under the Sixth Amendment, courts look to the severity of the maximum authorized penalty. Crimes punishable by a prison sentence greater than six months are considered “serious” and trigger a defendant's right to a jury trial even if the imposed sentence is less than six months. For crimes punishable by a sentence of six months or less, the right to a jury trial attaches only if additional statutory or regulatory penalties “are so severe that the legislature clearly determined that the offense is a 'serious' one.” In the absence of a maximum statutory penalty, appellate courts will consider the actual penalty imposed. A defendant charged with multiple petty offenses does not have a right to a jury trial even when the combined total of potential sentences exceeds six months.
The Sixth Amendment requires that a jury make the factual findings necessary to impose a death sentence. Other than the fact of a prior conviction, facts that increase a sentence or penalty beyond the mandatory minimum or statutory maximum must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, unless admitted by the defendant. However, sentencing judges may make factual findings pursuant to their consideration of sentencing factors that are part of the advisory Federal Sentencing Guidelines scheme. A sentencing judge may also make findings of fact necessary for the imposition of consecutive, as opposed to concurrent, sentences when the defendant has been tried and convicted of multiple offenses.