LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Suspects accused of a non-capital crime have the right to waive a trial by jury and have a judge decide their case. But when and how many times should they be able to change their mind? These are some of the issues to consider when you vote on Constitutional Amendment 10.
It would require the waiver at least 45 days before trial-- and once waived it could not be revoked. Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier supports the amendment saying it would prevent defendants from going back and forth. "If passed a defendant will not be able to say I want a jury trial then when he finds out who his judge is say well I want to waive a jury. And then go back and decide later if it gets transferred to a different judge, well I want a jury again because I don't have the judge I wanted now."
But Defense Attorney Glen Vamvoras says it's okay for a defendant to decide based on which judge he gets. "If you think the judge is going to be fair to you and give you a fair trial then you have every right to elect that judge to try your case. And if for some reason a new judge takes over, then you may not feel that way and you're entitled to a jury trial at that point."
DeRosier says defendants going back and forth bogs down system. "If we allow defendants to waive a jury and then revoke that and reinstate their request for a jury trial, and then waive it at the last minute we can end up wasting a whole week of jury trial time."
Yet Vamvoras says judges have discretion to prevent abuse of the system by defendants. "The Code of Criminal Procedure does prevent abuse of the right to waive trial by jury and then change your mind and change your mind back."
Some see it as an issue of victims rights versus the unrestrained rights of the accused.
The election is Tuesday, November 2.
For more information on the ten proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitutional see the analysis provided by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.