PATTON V. UNITED STATES, 281 U. S. 276 (1930)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Patton v. United States, 281 U.S. 276 (1930)

Patton v. United States

No. 53

Argued February 25, 1930

Decided April 14, 1930

281 U.S. 276


1. After the commencement of a trial in a federal court before a jury of twelve men upon an indictment charging a crime, punishment for which may involve a penitentiary sentence, if one juror becomes incapacitated and unable to proceed further with his work as a juror, the defendant and the Government, through its official representative in charge of the case, may consent to the trial's proceeding to a finality with eleven jurors, and defendant thus may waive the right to a trial and verdict by a constitutional jury of twelve men. P. 281 U. S. 287 et seq.

2. The phrase "trial by jury," as used in the Federal Constitution (Art. III, § 2, and the Sixth Amendment) means a trial by jury as understood and applied at common law, and includes all the essential elements as they were recognized in this country and England when the Constitution was adopted; viz: (1) that the jury should consist of twelve men, neither more nor less; (2) that the trial should be in the presence and under the superintendence of a judge having power to instruct them as to the law and advise them in respect of the facts, and (3) that the verdict should be unanimous. P. 281 U. S. 288.

3. These common law elements of a jury trial are embedded in the provisions of the Federal Constitution relating thereto, and are beyond the authority of the legislative department to destroy or abridge. P. 281 U. S. 290.

4. There is no difference in substance between a complete waiver of a jury and consent to be tried by a less number than twelve. Id.

5. A question involving a claim of constitutional right cannot be settled by the simple process of ascertaining that the infraction assailed is unimportant when compared with similar but more serious infractions which might be conceived; to uphold the voluntary reduction of a jury from twelve to eleven upon the ground that the reduction is only a slight reduction is not to interpret the Constitution, but to disregard it. P. 281 U. S. 292.

6. The effect of the constitutional provisions in respect of trial by jury is not to establish a tribunal as a part of the frame of government,

Page 281 U. S. 277

but only to guarantee to the accused the right to such a trial. P. 281 U. S. 293.

7. The first ten amendments and the original Constitution were substantially contemporaneous, and should be construed in pari materia. P. 298.

8. The provision of Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution, relating to trial by jury, is not jurisdictional, but was meant to confer a right upon the accused which he may forego at his election. Id.

9. A federal district court has authority, in the exercise of a sound discretion, to accept a waiver of jury trial in a criminal case, and to proceed to the trial and determination of the case with a reduced number or without a jury, the grant of jurisdiction by § 24 of the Judicial Code, U.S.C. Title 28, § 41(2), being sufficient to that end. P. 281 U. S. 299.

10. The view that power to waive a trial by jury in criminal cases should be denied on grounds of public policy is rejected as unsound. P. 281 U. S. 308.

11. The power of waiver of jury trial by the defendant in a criminal case is applicable to cases of felonies, as well as to misdemeanors. P. 281 U. S. 309.

12. Before a waiver of jury trial in a criminal case can become effective, the consent of government counsel and the sanction of the court must be had, in addition to the express and intelligent consent of the defendant, and the duty of the trial court in this regard is to be discharged with a sound and advised discretion. P. 281 U. S. 312.

ANSWER to a question certified by the Circuit Court of Appeals upon review of a judgment of the District Court imposing sentence in a criminal prosecution for conspiring to bribe a federal prohibition agent.

Page 281 U. S. 286

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