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Law School Case Brief

Patton v. United States - 281 U.S. 276, 50 S. Ct. 253 (1930)


Before any waiver of a right to a trial by a constitutional jury and submission to trial by a jury of less than 12 persons, or by the court can become effective, the consent of government counsel and the sanction of a court must be had, in addition to the express and intelligent consent of a defendant. And the duty of a trial court in that regard is not to be discharged as a mere matter of rote, but with sound and advised discretion, with an eye to avoid unreasonable or undue departures from that mode of trial or from any of the essential elements thereof, and with a caution increasing in degree as the offenses dealt with increase in gravity. 


Defendants Patton and others were indicted for conspiring to bribe a federal prohibition agent, which was punishable by imprisonment. After the commencement of trial in a federal district court before a jury of 12 men, one juror became incapacitated and unable to proceed further with his work as a juror. Thus, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit submitted for resolution with the Supreme Court of the United States the question of whether defendants and the government could consent to continuing a trial that had begun with a jury of 12 members when one jury member became incapacitated, such that defendants' right to a trial and verdict by a constitutional jury of 12 was waived.


Can the right to trial by a jury with 12 members be waived by the defendants and the government?




The Supreme Court of the United States held the right to a trial by jury encompassed the right to a unanimous verdict after a trial by a jury of 12 members conducted in the presence of and under the supervision of a judge having the power to instruct as to the law and advise as to the facts. The Court further determined that the right to a trial by jury was not jurisdictional, thereby limiting the power of the court to adjudicate, but instead was a right possessed by and waivable by defendants. The Court held, in order to be effective, the waiver required the consent of the government, the sanction of the court, and the express and intelligent consent of defendants. Accordingly, defendants were empowered to waive their right to trial by a jury of 12 members.

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