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Appellate Court Affirms Bright Line on Jury Trials

A convicted drug dealer will get a new trial thanks to appellate judges in the First District, who agreed the man had the right to face the bench even as preparations were well underway for a date with a jury. A three-member panel reversed a Cook County judge’s decision to let the jury that subsequently convicted Elgin Jordan on a charge of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver hear the case in 2016. Caught selling heroin on a Chicago street 10 months before, Jordan confirmed his counsel’s request for a jury trial in securing a pair of continuances to subpoena witnesses. Jordan then demanded to face the bench pro se on the day the trial began.

Citing the time spent in voir dire, Associate Judge Stanley Sacks rejected the request and empaneled the jury after a contentious exchange with Jordan, who received an eight-year prison term at sentencing. Jordan then appealed, contending the judge had violated his Sixth Amendment rights in letting the trial go ahead. Writing for the court, Justice Mary Mikva noted the time wasted as a factor in Sacks’ decision. However, the appellate judges concurred that the same protections that permit the accused to face a jury also allow them to waive that right. She said state and federal supreme courts had established a bright-line rule that trials begin when juries are sworn in, after which time such waivers are at the discretion of the presiding judge.