If you’re accused of a crime, you face the charges in court and then a jury of your peers decides whether you’re guilty or not — right? Well, that may be the theory, but the reality can be a lot more complicated. Prosecutors and defense lawyers regularly work out plea deals and it’s not uncommon for defendants to move through the system without a trial. This is especially common for lower-level offenses that do not carry the threat of jail time (like disorderly conduct and trespassing).
But a recent Oregon Court of Appeals ruling calls the status quo into question. The court ruled a woman who did not receive a trial for theft charges — but was found guilty by a judge of a violation and fined six hundred dollars — had a right to a jury trial. Now, many are worried the court system will become clogged with all the additional trials. Many of the Occupy protesters were charged with these low-level offenses and may now be going to trial as a result of this ruling.
The court also ruled that defendants have the right to a court-appointed lawyer. Currently many people charged with low-level offenses go through the system without the benefit of counsel.
Have you been through the court system? Did you have a jury trial or use a court-appointed attorney? Why or why not?