Louisiana district attorneys are one step away from giving state voters an opportunity to vote on rolling back a criminal defendant’s right to choose a bench trial, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. A Senate committee yesterday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would give prosecutors and judges the final say when an accused person asks to forgo a jury.
Should it win the expected approval by the full Senate, the measure would be placed on the Nov. 2 ballot. It is the subject of an intense debate between prosecutors and the criminal defense bar, with the two sides trading arguments about defendants’ constitutional rights to a fair trial, a victim’s right to see justice done, the efficiency of the trial court system and public perceptions about verdicts from juries versus those from a judge. Louisiana is one of 20 states that allow a defendant to choose between a jury and a bench trial. The constitutional amendment would align Louisiana with the remaining 30 states and the federal court system, where a defendant waives a jury trial subject to approval by the prosecutor and the court. Proponents framed the proposed change as a way to underscore the American justice system’s emphasis on trials by jury.