Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Woolverton, 371 P.3d 941 (Kan. Ct. App. 2016).
This case addresses the following issue:
Does a defendant charged with misdemeanor domestic battery have a constitutional right to a jury trial?
This case explored the issue of whether a defendant charged with misdemeanor domestic battery had a constitutional right to a jury trial. In exploring this issue, the court held that a defendant in a misdemeanor case had a right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution if the offense was categorized as a serious offense but not if the offense was categorized as a petty offense. Id. at 942. Further, the court held that the offense in this case was a petty offense. Id. at 946.
In this case, the defendant was convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery in a trial to a judge (meaning the judge decided the case, not a jury). Id. at 943. As a result, the defendant asked for a do-over on the ground that he had a constitutional right to a jury trial. Id. Therefore, on appeal, the plaintiff argued that the domestic battery conviction was not a serious offense, while the defendant argued that the domestic battery conviction was a serious offense. Id.
The Court of Appeals of Kansas looked to the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights where it stated that a defendant in a misdemeanor case had a right to a jury trial if the offense was categorized as a serious offense but not if the offense was categorized as a petty offense. Id. Therefore, the question to be answered in this case was whether misdemeanor domestic battery was a serious offense or a petty offense. Id. In order to answer this question, the court looked to a U.S. Supreme Court case. In Baldwin v. New York, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an misdemeanor offense could only be considered “serious” if it required a prison term of more than six months. Id. Therefore, according to Baldwin, a jury-trial right existed when the authorized penalty was more than six months in prison. Id. Additionally, the Baldwin court said that although they “presumed” for purposes of the Sixth Amendment that an offense with a maximum prison term of six month or less was petty, that presumption could be disproved. Id. Furthermore, the court stated that in order to disprove the presumption, the defendant must show that, in addition to the jail term of less than six months, the offense carried statutory penalties “so severe that they clearly reflected a legislative determination that the offense was a serious one.” Id. Essentially, the defendant had to show there were additional severe penalties other than just the prison time. Id. With this in mind, the court noted that there had not yet been a case in which the court found that a misdemeanor offense conviction with less than six months was a serious offense, thereby requiring a jury trial. Id. at 944.
According to the court, the maximum prison time for a misdemeanor domestic battery conviction was six months. Id. Therefore, the defendant had to disprove the presumption that the conviction was petty by showing that additional penalties caused it to be the severe. Id. In this case, the court specified that the additional penalties for misdemeanor domestic battery were having to pay a $200 to $500 fine and having the offender go through a domestic violence offender assessment. Moreover, the court concluded these additional penalties were not severe enough to require a jury trial. Id.
In conclusion, the defendant’s misdemeanor domestic battery conviction was a petty offense and the defendant did not have a constitutional right to a jury trial. Id. at 946.