Arizona Jury Trials In Misdemeanor Assault Cases

In Goldman v. Kautz, 111 Ariz. 431, 432, 531 P.2d 1138, 1139 (1975), a defendant sought a trial by jury after being charged with assault and battery in violation of Arizona Revised Statutes 13-241(B). The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision denying the defendant a jury trial, reasoning that, at common law, justices of the peace had jurisdiction to adjudicate assault and battery cases without a jury. Id. The court cited State v. Maier, 13 N.J. 235, 99 A.2d 21 (N.J. 1953). In Maier, the Supreme Court of New Jersey analyzed English and early American jurisprudence and concluded that justices of the peace had the power at common law "to punish common or simple assaults and assaults and batteries summarily without presentment or indictment and without trial by jury." Id. at 29. Bruce v. State, 126 Ariz. 271, 272, 614 P.2d 813, 814 (1980), involved a defendant charged with, among other counts, two counts of misdemeanor assault. The Arizona Supreme Court set aside the trial court's order granting the defendant a jury trial, reasoning in part that the assaults the defendant was alleged to have committed were "the equivalent of a simple battery at common law, which was not a crime requiring a jury trial . . . ." Id. at 273, 614 P.2d at 815 (citation omitted). In State ex rel. McDougall v. Strohson (Cantrell), 190 Ariz. 120, 121, 945 P.2d 1251, 1252 (1997) the supreme court noted that "although Arizona case law provides a broader-based right to jury trial than does the federal constitution, historically there has been no right to a jury trial in Arizona in simple assault cases." Because Cantrell involved a defendant charged with simple assault designated in the complaint as domestic violence under Arizona's domestic violence statutes, the court considered whether the enactment of a federal law that could have prohibited the defendant from possessing a firearm if convicted of a misdemeanor assault involving domestic violence required Arizona to change its rule that jury trials are not required in misdemeanor assault cases. Id. at 121, 945 P.2d at 1252. The court reaffirmed Goldman and Bruce and reversed the trial court's decision granting a jury trial, concluding that potential consequences to a defendant under the federal law could not be considered in determining jury eligibility. Id. at 122-25, 945 P.2d at 1253-56.