Last Modified: Tuesday, August 07, 2012 12:48 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — A state judge struck down a 2010 amendment to the state Constitution that requires criminal defendants who wish to give up their right to a jury trial — and instead be tried by a judge — to do so at least 45 days prior to trial.
State District Judge Mike Erwin stated in a written decision Monday that having a bench trial or jury trial rests with the defendant. Erwin said by allowing the state to 'force' a decision by the defendant 45 days prior to the trial, denies the defendant his true right to choose between a bench or jury trial.
East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney David deBlieux told The Advocate (http://bit.ly/Narrlp) he will appeal Erwin's ruling directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Last year, in the second-degree murder case of Timothy Bazile, Erwin declared the amendment to the state's constitution invalid, saying he felt the amendment violates a defendant's rights under the U.S. Constitution. He allowed Bazile to waive his right to a jury trial just three weeks between the waiver and the scheduled trial date.
In January, the state Supreme Court — without passing judgment on the amendment's constitutionality — reversed Erwin because Bazile had not challenged the legality of the jury waiver amendment.
Since that ruling, Bazile's attorney — Jarvis Antwine — filed such a challenge, and on Monday Erwin once again struck the law down.
Antwine said afterward the 45-day jury waiver law deprives a defendant of the opportunity to see the makeup of the jury pool before making a decision, thus preventing a defendant from making a "knowing and intelligent" waiver.
"He (Bazile) should have that right," Antwine said.
DeBlieux contends criminal defendants have a federal constitutional right to a jury trial but no such right to be tried by a judge.
Erwin noted that legislative discussion prior to the amendment's passage was "mainly geared toward how this amendment would save money in rural parishes, because they would have advance notice of how many prospective jurors would need to be summoned for a particular date."
The judge added, "It is a sad day in the history of Louisiana that justice and due process of law are to be dictated by cost."
Bazile, who is accused of shooting his wife to death in their Pamela Drive home in 2010, remains jailed on $250,000 bail while he awaits a trial.