Jury Waivers and Judge Alone Trial Requests in Massachusetts

John L. Calcagni III
Jury Waivers and Judge Alone Trial Requests in Massachusetts

The Sixth Amendment and the Right to a Jury Trial

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that a criminal defendant has the right to a trial by jury. In Massachusetts, this right may be waived by the defendant. M.G.L. c. 263, § 6. If the waiver is accepted, a defendant may proceed to trial by a judge sitting alone and without a jury.

A defendant’s jury waiver must be in writing, signed, and filed with the clerk. Mass. R. Crim. P. 19. Unlike the federal criminal justice system, the decision to proceed to trial by jury or a judge alone rests with the defendant. In the federal system, the government must agree before a case may proceed to a bench trial with a judge sitting without a jury.

Jury Waiver Process in Massachusetts

Once a jury waiver is filed in Massachusetts, the trial judge will conduct a colloquy with the defendant to ensure the waiver is both knowingly and voluntary. A judge has a broad discretion to grant or deny a defendant’s request for a jury waiver.

In most instances, the waiver will be accepted, and the trial will occur without a jury before a judge sitting alone. However, a judge may refuse to approve a jury waiver for any good and sufficient reason provided is given in open court and on the record. If a judge denies a jury waiver and the defendant appeals the denial, the standard of review is whether the judge abused his discretion.

Commonwealth v. Gebo: A Case Study on Judge Shopping

In Commonwealth v. Gebo, 489 Mass. 757, 758, (2022), the court denied a jury waiver for suspected judge shopping. Judge shopping refers to a litigant’s attempt to steer a case towards or away from a particular judge, opposed to proceeding before whatever judge is randomly sitting who has been assigned for the day of trial.

Judge shopping is prohibited, because each judge is ideally supposed to be equally impartial and evenly balanced in his or her ability to issue rulings, orders, and criminal sentences.

The Ideology and Reality of Judges

In a very ideological way, judges represent the court or judicial as a whole and should not be viewed as individuals.

However, this ideology ignores the obvious and well-known facts that each judge takes a different pathway to the bench. No two judges are identical. Instead, they are all unique, and a product of their individual life experiences, career choices, personal backgrounds, educational and professional experiences, political and religious beliefs, affiliations, sentencing ideologies.

Judges are also people prone to various biases, prejudices, and opinions that form the human condition. In any event, the Gebo decision is rare in that jury waivers are most often granted. Gebo was denied the jury waiver, and the denial was upheld, more likely as a public message to litigants on the prohibitions against of judge shopping, even though the logic against such this frowned-upon practice is arguably flawed.

Getting Help From and Experienced Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have questions or concerns about a jury waiver or trial by judge alone request in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III, Inc. for a free consultation at (401) 351-5100 or jc@calcagnilaw.com.