North Dakota Municipal Court Criminal Jury Trial

If You’ve Been Charged With A Crime In A North Dakota Municipal Court, You Must Assert Your Right To A Jury Trial Or Lose It.

May 24, 2024

Few American institutions are more iconic than the jury trial. Not only is trial by one’s own peers the defining feature of our justice system, it’s a symbol of our democracy and our shared ideals. This was certainly the view of our founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson once called trial by jury “the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” John Adams, a trial lawyer himself, called representative government and trial by jury “the heart and lungs of liberty” and feared that “[w]ithout them we have no other fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle and fed and clothed like swine and hounds.”

Within the criminal justice system, in particular, the right to trial by jury is considered sacrosanct. In fact, when a criminal defendant pleads guilty the judge will typically ask numerous questions to ascertain whether the accused fully understands and appreciates that he or she is giving up that most valued of rights. How then is it possible to waive that right by accident? The answer lies within one of the quirks of North Dakota’s municipal courts

North Dakota’s district and municipal courts are very different institutions. Unlike district courts, where each case automatically proceeds towards a jury trial, municipal courts cannot host jury trials. As the North Dakota Supreme Court has explained “a case in municipal court must be transferred to district court to obtain a jury trial.” City of Bismarck v. Fettig, 1999 ND 193, ¶ 5, 601 N.W.2d 247. In order to make this transfer a written demand for a jury trial must be filed in municipal court within 28 days of the arraignment. N.D.C.C. § 40-18-15.1. If such a demand isn’t made in a timely manner, that right to trial by jury is waived.

If you’ve been charged with a crime in municipal court, don’t lose your most important right through inaction.  Make sure you fully understand your rights and what it takes to preserve them by contacting an attorney as soon as possible. 

For help with criminal matters in North Dakota or Minnesota (including charges in North Dakota municipal courts), please contact SW&L Attorneys at 701-297-2890. For future articles, check out our blog. This article is for informational purposes only and is subject to our disclaimer.