October 14, 2014
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) -
North Carolinians will have the chance to change the state's constitution in the upcoming General Election.
Voters will cast ballots for or against a constitutional amendment that would allow a person accused of a felony to waive his or her right to a jury trial, taking the case before a judge instead.
North Carolina is the only state in the nation that doesn't allow defendants to forgo jury trials, according to the UNC School of Government.
Cases that could result in a death sentence would still be required to go before a jury.
Defendants wanting to waive their right to a jury trial would have to say so in court or in writing, then a judge would have to agree.
Ben David, district attorney for New Hanover and Pender counties, opposes the measure because prosecutors wouldn't have to sign off on the waivers.
“There are times where it would be in victims' best interest to have the community decide rather than just one person,” David said.
Jon David, prosecutor for Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties, says he's also against the amendment but is waiting to speak out until he meets with district attorneys from across the state later this month.
James Payne, a defense attorney with offices in Shallotte and Wilmington, opposes the measure as well, but for different reasons.
Supporters claim allowing defendants to forgo jury trials could save time tax money, but Payne says potential downsides outweigh the benefits.
“When we are striving for efficiency and we sacrifice individual liberty, that is not the right way to go,” Payne said.
The defense attorney also claims that the amendment would make it easier for prosecutors to get convictions because they will have to prove their case to a judge instead of a jury of twelve people.
“Meddling with the jury system is meddling with individual freedom,” he said.
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