Criminal Law: You Have a Right to a Jury Trial from a Municipal Court Case

When you get ticketed or arrested for a municipal offense, there are some distinct differences from being in a circuit court. For starters, you will not have a jury trial in a municipal court. That does not mean you do not have a right to a jury trial, however. You have a right to appeal the decision of a municipal court for a new trial in the circuit court, and that will allow you to have a jury trial if you desire one. That said, it would be a shame for your jury trial to be denied for an obscure procedural reason.

A jury trial was almost denied for that kind of reason in a case out of Jefferson County, Gonzalez v. City of Homewood. In this case, the defendant’s dogs were allegedly loose in a residential neighborhood. The dogs approached a pair of women, with one woman being bitten. Another individual testified that one of the dogs approached him and the dog scratched him with its teeth.

Police were called to the scene, and they were forced to shoot one of the dogs. The other dog was impounded, and the police arrested the dog’s owner. The owner was charged with for allowing animals to run at large, keeping a vicious animal, and refusing to comply with a lawful order, and was convicted in municipal court. The owner filed a notice for appeal for a jury trial in the Jefferson County Circuit Court.

In filling out the forms, however, the owner hit a snag. The owner had a form for each of the three charges, with a box to check to indicate a jury trial was demanded. The owner only checked the box on one of the forms, but initialed and dated under the box on all the forms. The city dismissed the charge for which the owner checked the box, and the circuit court went to trial on the charges that did not have the box checked. The circuit court did not give the owner a jury trial on those two charges.

The owner appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. The appeals court looked at what happened and was not amused with the procedural tactics used by the city and the circuit court. Citing a string of cases that emphasized the importance of the right to a trial by jury, the appeals court noted that all that is required for a jury trial from a municipal court case is that there be a written demand for a jury trial. Since the owner initialed and dated under the box for a jury demand, that was enough indication that the owner wanted a trial by jury.

If you are involved in a criminal case, it is important to have an attorney that is comfortable and experienced with trials at courts of all levels. Contact INGRAM LAW LLC at 205-438-6666 for help with your criminal case. Get Relief – Get Results.

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