Voters to decide trial by judge

In November’s general election, voters will get to decide on something the other 49 states and the federal court system already do: Allowing defendants the option to be tried by a judge rather than a jury.

This summer, the N.C. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly and with bipartisan support to allow the ballot referendum. They were right to do so.

The Tar Heel state has no good reason to be an outlier on this issue. But our state Constitution demands a jury trial except for misdemeanors.

Backers of the amendment said it would also save courts and defendants time and money. But this should not be and is not solely about costs. Some advocates note that some legal issues may be better left to the expertise of a judge such as some white-collar crimes with reams of technical and confusing data and other paperwork.

As long as defendants aren’t being forced or coerced into letting a judge hear and decide their case rather than a jury, giving defendants this option makes sense. The amendment requires a defendant to request a bench trial in writing or open court and a judge to approve the move.

The law would not allow bench trials in capital cases where prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Neither the North Carolina Bar Association, a statewide group representing most lawyers, nor the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, a statewide group of trial lawyers, has taken a position on the amendment.

An appalling tweet

Last week, when an Arizona shooting range instructor was tragically killed by 9-year-old girl with an Uzi machine gun, the reaction mostly came in as expected.

There was horror at the accident, mourning for the victim and girl, and legitimate questions about a 9-year-old shooting an automatic weapon. Then there was this tweet from NRA Women, a group associated with the National Rifle Association: “7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range.”

The tweet was deleted, but the question remains: How has the NRA become so insensitive to gun tragedy – or so afraid of acknowledging it – that it not only ignores the Arizona incident, but inadvertently mocks it?

How about this, NRA: “We mourn for the families involved in the Arizona tragedy, which should remind us all to use our firearms safely.”

Is that so hard? Apparently, and unfortunately, yes.