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Singer v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner wished to waive his jury trial, but the Government would not consent to it.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. “A defendant’s only constitutional right concerning the method of trial is to an impartial trial by jury.” There is “no constitutional impediment to conditioning a waiver of this right on the consent of the prosecuting and the trail judge.”

    Facts. Petitioner Singer was charged with 30 counts of mail fraud. He offered in writing to waive a trial by jury, as per Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. While the trial court was willing, the prosecution was not.

    Issue. Whether “the Constitution gives a defendant in a federal criminal case the right to waive a jury trial whenever he believes such action to be in his best interest, regardless of whether the prosecution and the court are willing to acquiesce in the waiver.”

    Held. No. The Supreme Court of the United States first dismissed the petitioner’s argument that there is a “correlative right” to trial by jury “to have his cased decided by a judge alone if he considers such a trial to be to his advantage.” The Supreme Court found no evidence of such a right in common law, and so found Rule 23(a) to be valid. The Supreme Court did concede that under Patton v. United States, a defendant can “in some instances waive his right to a trial by jury.”
    Turning to the specific issue of conditions of acceptance, the Supreme Court first stated that “[t]he ability to waive a constitutional right does not ordinarily carry with it the right to insist upon the opposite of that right.” Further, the Supreme Court noted that “it has long been accepted that the waiver of constitutional rights can be subjected to reasonable procedural regulations.” If the prosecutor or judge refuses to consent, “the result is simply that the defendant is subject to an impartial trial by jury-the very thing that the Constitution guarantees him.”

    Discussion. “[T]he Government, as a litigant, has a legitimate interest in seeing that cases in which it believes a conviction is warranted are tried before the tribunal which the Constitution regards as most likely to produce a fair result.”


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