Politics & Government

NC constitutional amendment: Voters approve bench trials

North Carolina joined the rest of the nation on Tuesday with voters approving a constitutional amendment allowing those charged with a serious crime to have their cases heard by a judge, not a jury.

With more than 92 percent of the ballots counted, voters were approving the “bench trial” amendment 53 percent to 47 percent, a margin of more than 150,000 votes.

The judge or jury option is allowed in every other state. Under the North Carolina amendment, a bench trial would have to be requested by a defendant and approved by a judge. It would not be available in death-penalty cases.

The state’s district attorneys campaigned against the change, saying they and the victims of crimes will be cut out of the decision on how a case will be heard.

Supporters, though, say bench trials are faster, cheaper and could help ease overcrowded dockets.

District Court judges already deliver verdicts on misdemeanor cases. Under North Carolina law, defendants in those cases have the right of an automatic appeal to a jury trial in Superior Court. If the amendment passes, that second trial could be before a jury or a judge.