Brief Fact Summary.
Defendant was arrested for jostling in New York. After requesting a jury trial and being denied this right pursuant to a statute in New York, Defendant was sentenced to one year in prison. Defendant appealed, arguing that the New York statute was in violation of the Sixth Amendment.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a defendant has the right to a trial by jury for all “serious” offenses requiring imprisonment for more than six months.
Baldwin (Defendant) was arrested for jostling in New York. Jostling is considered a misdemeanor in violation of New York Penal Law § 165.25. According to § 165.25, a person is guilty of jostling when “he intentionally and unnecessarily places his hand in the proximity of a person’s pocket or handbag” in a public place, or when he “crowds another person at a time when a third person’s hand is in the proximity of such person’s pocket or handbag” in a public place. Pursuant to § 40 of the New York City Criminal Court Act, Defendant’s trial was conduct without a jury in New York City Criminal Court because all trials were conducted without a jury per § 40. Defendant moved for a jury trial and was denied this right. Defendant was then convicted of jostling and sentenced to prison for one year. Defendant appealed and argued that § 40 was unconstitutional for denying him the opportunity for a jury trial. Subsequently, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, does a defendant have the right to a trial by jury for all “serious” offenses requiring imprisonment for more than six months?
Yes. Under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a defendant accused of a serious offense must be afforded the right to a trial by jury. A petty offense, on the other hand, does not give defendant a right to a trial by jury. In this case, Defendant’s one-year sentence for jostling is sufficient to be considered a serious offense, which warrants him the right to a trial by jury. As such, the judgment of conviction is reversed.
To determine whether an offense is considered petty or serious, courts must look to objective criteria reflecting how society views the seriousness of an offense. The length of imprisonment is the best determinant of how society views the seriousness of an offense. A six-month imprisonment sentence is sufficient to classify the offense as petty, while a two-year imprisonment sentence is sufficient to classify the offense as serious. When the length of imprisonment for a defendant cannot possibly exceed six months, any disadvantages on the defendant will possibly be outweighed by the benefits to society in conducting speedy and inexpensive nonjury trials. However, when the length of imprisonment can possibly exceed six months of imprisonment, then there is less justification for depriving the defendant of a jury trial.