June 23, 2008
Court: Juveniles have right to jury trial
Juvenile offenders in Kansas have a constitutional right to a jury trial, the state’s highest court declared Friday in a decision that could force prosecutors to retry hundreds of cases.
The ruling has Douglas County court officials trying to figure out how their system will be affected.
“Quite frankly, we don’t know,” the district court’s administrative judge, Robert Fairchild, said. “If (jury trials) increase dramatically that will certainly affect the way we do business.”
The ruling could increase the number of jury trials, time spent on them and require at least one more prosecutor, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said. His office has only one juvenile prosecutor.
“If juveniles demand their right to a juvenile trial, our system is not set up for this,” Branson said. “Our processing time for juvenile cases and costs associated with prosecuting cases will double, if not triple.”
There are very few juvenile trials now, maybe only a couple a year, Fairchild said. They are usually the most serious felony cases and most of them get worked out before trial, he said.
“They have the right to ask for a jury trial now. We have rarely denied them that,” Fairchild said.
Attorney Martin Miller said he has asked for jury trials knowing that the judge would probably deny them.
“It’s been entirely up to the judge’s discretion,” Miller said. “It’s a rare case that they are granted.” [Mark Godsey]