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Criminal Law

D.C. Laws Strip Thousands of Right to Jury Trial

Thanks to a pair of largely forgotten laws the Council passed in the 1990s, most defendants in the District don’t have any right to be tried by a jury. In 2018, more than 98 percent of misdemeanor trials in the District were bench trials, meaning a judge made the decision and no jury was involved. 

Judge Eric Washington said D.C. Council could reverse its decision and extend jury rights to all criminal defendants. And recently, the Council has actually taken steps in that direction, in small and piecemeal ways. Paul Zukerberg, who’s practiced criminal law in D.C. since 1985, says that the District’s blasé attitude toward jury trials permanently transformed the face of the city, since fewer jury trials means D.C. can lock up more people, faster. 

Judge Eric Washington

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