Singer v. United States, 380 U.S. 24 (1965)

2012-09-05 08:56:49

A federal criminal defendant sought to waive a jury trial and be tried before the judge alone. The applicable rule of procedure permitted a waiver only with the approval of the trial court and consent of the prosecutor. Although the trial court was willing to approve the waiver, the prosecutor refused to consent, and the defendant was tried and convicted by a jury.

In Singer v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held that although the Constitution grants criminal defendants the right to a jury trial, it neither confers nor recognizes a right of defendants to have their cases decided by a judge alone. It acknowledged that the Constitution does not prohibit defendants from waiving their jury trial right, but noted that ‘‘[t]he ability to waive a constitutional right does not ordinarily carry with it the right to insist upon the opposite of that right.’’ It then upheld the applicable procedural rule, finding no constitutional impediment to conditioning a waiver of the jury trial right on the consent of the prosecutor and the trial judge, because ‘‘if either refuses to consent, the result is simply that the defendant is subject to an impartial trial by jury— the very thing that the Constitution guarantees him.’’ The Court cautioned, however, that cases may exist in which a defendant’s reasons for wanting to be tried before a judge alone are so compelling that the prosecutor’s insistence on a jury trial would result in the denial to the defendant of an impartial trial.


References and Further Reading

  • LaFave, Wayne R., Jerold H. Israel, and Nancy J. King. Criminal Procedure. 4th ed. St. Paul: Thompson-West, 2004, pp. 1041–1043, 1141.
  • Note, Singer v. United States, Northwestern University Law Review 60 (1965): 5:722–730.
  • Rudstein, David S., C. Peter Erlinder, and David C. Thomas. Criminal Constitutional Law. Newark and San Francisco: LexisNexis-Matthew Bender, 1990, 2004, pp. 14–35 to 14–37.

See also Jury Trial; Jury Trial Right