Policy: Law

Ruling: Right to jury trial in shoplifting cases

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PHOENIX (AP) — A state appellate court cited 17th century English court cases Thursday in a ruling that expands Arizonans' right to have a jury trial in misdemeanor cases by saying additional shoplifting defendants are entitled to be judged by their peers instead of a judge.

The Court of Appeals ruled in a Maricopa County case that people charged with misdemeanor shoplifting by removal are entitled to jury trials. Shoplifting by removal is when a person takes an item from a display or another place in a store and doesn't pay for it.

The ruling says those defendants are entitled to a trial because there is a historical right to jury trials for the substantially similar crime of larceny. It cited 17th century cases in London before and after the English Parliament passed a shoplifting law in 1698.

"We therefore conclude that the crime of shoplifting existed in the common law before statehood and defendants charged with that crime were entitled to have their guilty determined by jury," Judge Lawrence Winthrop wrote for a three-judge panel.

The appeals court said it was applying in a 2005 test set by the Arizona Supreme Court to decide whether a defendant has a constitutional right to a trial by jury. That test includes whether there was a historical right to a jury trial for a particular crime at the time Arizona became a state in 1912.

The ruling doesn't cover all types of shoplifting, but another Court of Appeals panel ruled in 2009 that people charged with misdemeanor shoplifting by concealment also have a right to a jury trial.

Other parts of Arizona's shoplifting law deal with such practices as buying items in another person's name or swapping price stickers on merchandise.

The ruling is the latest of several in recent years in which Arizona courts have decided whether particular crimes carried a right to jury trials.

One such ruling said there's no right to a jury trial for the misdemeanor offense of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but another found a right for defendants charged with for resisting arrest.

In 2012, Arizona legislators restored drunken-driving defendants' right to have a jury trial for non-extreme first offenses. That reversed a 2011 law that eliminated the right for those defendants.

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