The Jury Trial

The write-up below was done by former professor and longtime freedom advocate Julian Heicklen. For more from Heicklen, check out his project Tyranny Fighters and his posts and coverage of his activities here at


by Julian Heicklen

Julian Heicklen

Amendment VI of the U. S. Constitution states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury….” It does not say: “may enjoy.” It does not say: “if the accused chooses.” It does not say: “unless the accused declines.” It does not say: “if the judge agrees.” It does not say: “unless the Supreme Court says otherwise.” It says that there shall be a jury trial.

Everyone in the criminal legal system knows that if a defendant declines a jury trial, it is because his lawyer thinks or knows that his client is guilty. It is no longer possible for the judge to be impartial.

The reason a defendant’s lawyer declines a jury trial is because he hopes to win the case in one of three ways:

1. He has some obscure legal argument that the jury (and maybe even the judge and/or prosecutor) do not understand.

2. The judge owes the defendant’s lawyer something. The lawyers and the judge all know each other and have opinions, grudges, and obligations with each other.

3. The defense lawyer or the defendant may be in a position to help the judge’s career if he wins.

This is particularly true if the defendant holds a relevant government job.

NYPD employee handiwork

Consider the case of the killing of Sean Bell. He was killed by police on his wedding day. His bride-to-be received his corpse as a wedding present. The incident is described in detail at Wikipedia.

The Sean Bell shooting incident took place in the New York City borough of Queens on November 25, 2006, in which one Latino and two African-American men were shot at a total of fifty times by a team of both plainclothes and undercover NYPD officers (two of whom were themselves African-American), killing one of the men, Sean Bell, on the morning of his wedding day, and severely wounding two of his friends.[1] The incident sparked fierce criticism of the police from some members of the public and drew comparisons to the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo.[2] Three of the five detectives involved in the shooting went to trial [3] on charges ranging from manslaughter to reckless endangerment, and were acquitted.[4]” (see the web page for references)

The three detectives involved in the shooting were indicted by a grand jury for manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and assault. They waived a jury trial. The bench trial started on March 16, 2007. All three detectives were found not guilty of all charges by Justice Arthur J. Cooperman.

Apparently the police department did not agree with the judge’s decision. Although the detectives were acquitted, the three of them and their commanding officer were fired or forced to resign on March 24, 2012.

If there had been a jury trial, the detectives were likely to have been found guilty of something—probably not first degree murder, but at least criminal negligence. However, even it did find the police not guilty, its verdict would have been more credible.

On the other hand the judge desperately needs the police to protect him. They may save his life. There are lots of ex-criminals in the county that would like to kill him.

In a courtroom trial, there is only one impartial participant. That is the jury.

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