November 04, 2014
This Election Day, North Carolina voters will decide upon a constitutional amendment. If it is passed, North Carolina would be the last state in the country to allow defendants facing felony charges to opt out of a trial by jury.
The amendment would permit defendants facing felony charges to forego a jury trial in favor of a trial by judge, except in cases where the state has announced it intends to seek the death penalty. James Payne, a defense attorney who has spoken out in opposition to the amendment, says that if it is approved, the amendment may give a manipulative capacity to prosecutors:
"There may be cases in which the prosecution feels like they would stand a better advantage in front of a judge rather than having a jury decide the guilt or innocence. That would allow a prosecutor to say, 'Well, we have these other charges that we could potentially charge you with, Mr. or Ms. Defendant, but we won’t do that if you proceed to trial by just having a judge decide your guilt or innocence on this particular charge.'"
The amendment was overwhelmingly supported in the North Carolina legislature. Representative Ted Davis Jr. says that, as long as the process is not abused by the prosecution, he supports the amendment because it provides a choice to defendants. Supporters of the amendment say judges may be better able to rule on cases, as opposed to less qualified jurors. They also say it could save the courts money and shorten trials.