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Under the Guise of Reform: How Marijuana Possession Is Exposing the Flaws in the Criminal Justice System’s Guarantee of a Right to a Jury Trial

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ABSTRACT: Recent Supreme Court decisions have restricted a criminal defendant’s right to a jury trial. By setting the threshold to trigger a jury trial right at six-months imprisonment, the Supreme Court once feared that the legislature might classify serious crimes as petty, and take away a defendant’s right to a jury trial. But what if the opposite happened? What if the legislature classified an offense that Americans no longer believed was a crime out of the reach of their input by eliminating the jury? This is what has occurred in some states with minor marijuana possession. Even though a majority of Americans believe that marijuana possession should be legalized, some states are continuing to prosecute it as a crime without a jury trial. While waiting for marijuana reform, thousands of defendants will be prosecuted for a crime without the judicial check of a jury trial. Perhaps the electorate will respond through their votes, but democracy takes time, and at a cost to all the offenders who await judgment. This Note will examine how this offense managed to fall through the cracks of the judicial and legislative system at both the federal and state level. In highlighting these issues, this Note argues that the justice system should correct its flaws to prevent future offenses from suffering the same fate.

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