The US Constitution says you get an impartial jury “[i]n all criminal prosecutions.” The Arizona Constitution says you get an impartial jury “in criminal prosecutions.” A misdemeanor is a criminal prosecution, so you get a jury trial, right?
If you agree, it probably means you haven’t had the good fortune of spending three years in law school. Those three years are essential if you want to learn the super-important lawyer skill of looking at something really clear and interpreting it to mean something different from what it obviously means. The most important lesson lawyers-to-be learn in law school is that constitutions, statutes, and rules don’t always mean what they say. Sometimes, they don’t even mean what they mean.
Nowhere are those important law school lessons more impressively put to use than when US and Arizona courts interpret our constitutional rights to a jury trial. According to the US Supreme Court, the US Constitution’s right to a jury trial “in all criminal prosecutions” guarantees you a jury trial only in those criminal prosecutions where you can be incarcerated for more than six months. Misdemeanors in Arizona are punishable by a maximum of six months in jail, so the federal right doesn’t apply. However, Arizona courts have generously decided that you can get a jury trial for some misdemeanors. According to the Arizona Supreme Court, the Arizona Constitution’s right to a jury trial “in criminal prosecutions” gives you a jury trial in misdemeanor prosecutions where the crime either 1) has a common law antecedent that guaranteed a right to trial by jury at the time of Arizona statehood or 2) is sufficiently serious. Makes sense, right?
When it comes to our jury trial rights, the courts really take essential law school lessons to heart.