Difference Between Jury and Bench Trial – Criminal Defense in Springfield, Mo.

Just last week, Nicholas Godejohn, the man accused of killing Dee Dee Blanchard along with his girlfriend Gypsy Blanchard, withdrew his waiver of jury trial.  Previously, he had waived his right to a jury trial and elected to have a bench trial.  He changed his mind and the Court allowed him to renew his demand for a jury.  This is a unique turn of events, and one that the local CBS affiliate, KOLR10, took notice of and did a story on.  Springfield, Mo. criminal defense attorney Adam Woody was interviewed to provide insight into the difference between a bench and jury trial.

Essentially, a jury trial in Missouri is where 12 citizens from the community hear the evidence and decide the factual issues.  They then must agree unanimously whether or not the State proves their allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Conversely, a bench trial is where the judge and the judge alone hears the evidence and makes the same factual determinations.  The judge in that situation has two roles: decides which evidence comes in at trial, and decides whether the State proves its case.  The finding of the judge in that situation has the same force and effect of a jury verdict.

There are a variety of considerations to take into account when determining whether to waive a jury trial.  Sometimes, overly emotional cases are better to be heard by a judge and judge alone, but again, that depends upon whether there are factual issues that would be better determined by a jury.  There is no magic formula, and as criminal defense attorneys, we must simply make our recommendations to our clients on a case by case basis.  Clearly, the attorneys for Mr. Godejohn made their decision that a jury trial is in his best interest and he agreed.  That trial is set to commence in December of this year.

Judge Halts Lifetime Monitoring for Certain Sex Offenders

Just last week we published a post about a new law being enforced which would require certain sex offenders to be supervised and wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, both for the rest of their lives.  We questioned the Constitutionality of such a bill as the legislature attempted to include offenders who plead guilty to their charges all the way back in 2007, through today.  On Monday, a Circuit Judge in Cole County issued a temporary injunction, stopping the enforcement of the bill statewide and ordering hundreds of ankle monitors that had been installed last month to be immediately removed.  That injunction is likely to be made permanent at the next hearing in July.  Local ABC affiliate KSPR did a story following up on the Court’s order featuring Springfield criminal defense attorney Adam Woody.  Although theses offenders are not going to get a lot of sympathy from the general public, Constitutional over-reach by our legislature, no matter the target population, is something that we should constantly monitor.  Here, the right decision has been made, at least temporarily.

New Groups of Prior Sex Offenders Tagged for Lifetime Supervision and Monitoring

In a new law that took effect January 1, 2017, around a dozen different types of sex offenders are now required to be supervised by the State Board of Probation and Parole for the rest of their natural lives.  Along with the lifetime supervision, they are also subject to mandatory electronic monitoring through the use of an ankle bracelet, at the expense of the prior sex offender.  Adding additional fuel to the inevitable legal battle regarding the Constitutionality of the new bill, the state legislature made the law retroactive to August 28, 2006.  What this means is that anyone who plead guilty to the roughly 12 types of sex crimes, even all the way back in 2006, now suddenly have this new obligation regardless of how well they did on probation or how productive and law abiding they have been in life following their arrest.  Many of these crimes that require the lifetime registry and electronic monitor are non-contact offenses.

Understandably, sex offenders are not a group of people who are going to garner a lot of sympathy.  However, this new bill seems far over-reaching even in today’s society which treats sex offenses as a modern day scarlet letter.  The new law, RSMo. 217.735, includes offenses such as sexual misconduct involving a child.  Although titles of all sex offenses sound incredibly dangerous to most, sexual misconduct involving a child could include behavior such as urinating in public when a person less than 15 accidentally observes the act.  It is hard to imagine a scenario in which that crime should lead to lifetime supervision and lifetime electronic ankle monitor.

This bill is highly likely to be challenged in short order.  The Missouri Constitution forbids laws that ex post facto in nature, meaning laws that require a new obligation based on a prior act.  Appellate Courts across Missouri and across the country have made exceptions in the case of sex crimes, calling the new obligations civil in nature, rather than punitive.  Either way, this new bill is certain to be appealed an the Missouri Supreme Court is likely going to have to settle the debate as to whether or not these new requirements are Constitutional.