While I was finishing up my post last Wednesday on Senate Bill 682 (the bill implementing the 2018 constitutional amendments expanding victims’ rights), the Governor was signing that bill into law. In the week since S.L. 2019-216 was chaptered, I’ve fielded a couple of questions about the responsibilities for notifying victims of court hearings and the interplay between victims’ state constitutional rights and defendants’ rights under the state and federal constitutions. This post sets forth my (admittedly preliminary) thoughts on those matters.
Tag Archives: constitutional amendment
This November, North Carolina voters will be asked to vote for or against a “Constitutional amendment to implement a nonpartisan merit-based system that relies on professional qualifications instead of political influence when nominating Justices and judges to be selected to fill vacancies that occur between judicial elections.” If voters approve the amendment, what will change about the way judges are selected in North Carolina?
There will be six constitutional amendments on the ballot this November. One of them, S.L. 2018-110 (H 551), expands the constitutional rights of crime victims. Voters will be asked to vote for or against a “Constitutional amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for crimes; and to ensure the enforcement of these rights.” If House Bill 3, ratified yesterday, becomes law no additional explanation of the amendment will appear on the ballot, though the Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission will prepare an explanation of the amendment at least 75 days before the election. If you just can’t wait that long to learn more about the amendment and its effect on existing law, this post is for you. Continue reading →
This fall, North Carolina voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution. The proposed amendment would allow, for the first time, bench trials for felonies in superior court. Neither the media nor advocacy groups have paid much attention to the amendment, so almost no one seems to know that it is on the table. For that reason, I think of it as the stealth constitutional amendment. Despite the amendment’s low profile, allowing felony bench trials would be a major change.
The change could be for the better. For example, bench trials might save money, and some defendants — those with technical defenses, or those who are unpopular in the community — might prefer a judge to a jury. The 49 other states allow bench trials, so the amendment would bring us in line with the national norm.
But the change could also be for the worse. Once waiver is possible, defendants might be pressured to waive their right to a jury trial. Defendants with prominent and well-connected lawyers might get unfairly favorable treatment. Also, contrary to the majority rule in other states, the amendment doesn’t give the prosecution the right to insist on a jury trial if it believes that a bench trial would be inappropriate.
In an effort to draw some attention to the amendment and to provide some information about its possible benefits and costs, I worked with School of Government law clerk Komal Patel to prepare a report about it. The report is available here as a free PDF. In typical School of Government fashion, it doesn’t take a position on the amendment but it contains quite a bit of information about its potential impact and the practice in other jurisdictions. It’s written to be accessible to voters who aren’t very familiar with the criminal justice system, so please pass the link along to anyone who may be interested. As always, feedback and comments of all kinds are welcome.