Gov. Eric Greitens' trial in St. Louis on criminal charges will be heard by a jury, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison ruled Monday.
While many Missourians may think the defendant in a trial has the choice of being tried by a judge rather than by a jury, a 1965 Missouri Supreme Court ruling said that's not so.
The high court determined it's up to the court to agree to hold a judge-tried case.
The court said Missouri's Constitution promises (in Article I, Section 22-a) "that the right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate and that in every criminal case any defendant may, with the assent of the court, waive a jury trial and submit the trial of such case to the court, whose findings shall have the force and effect of a verdict of a jury."
And the key, the court found in its June 1965 ruling, was the phrase "with the assent of the court."
The Missouri ruling said: "The accused has no absolute right, either by constitution, statute, or court rule, to elect that he shall be tried by the court without a jury.
"The refusal of an accused's insistence upon trial by the court, where the trial judge objects to waiver of a jury, has been upheld many times in other jurisdictions," including a 1965 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
In that Missouri case, Nathan Taylor Jr. was convicted of unlawfully selling narcotics and was sentenced to eight years in the state penitentiary.
In the appeal, the Supreme Court explained, Taylor's attorneys suggested a court-tried case would have been more fair, because Taylor was "a colored person; that the narcotics agent is white; that when this case was tried there was a considerable feeling in the City of St. Louis relative to civil rights matters; that feeling was running high against colored people and that the newspapers were full of articles pertaining to narcotics and dope rings."
The court's ruling added Taylor's lawyer "concludes from these unsupported statements that the jury gave the testimony of the white narcotics agent much more weight than a jury would have accorded that testimony at other times, and implies that if (Taylor) had been granted 'the impartial and analytical scrutiny of a circuit judge' in the trial of his case these extraneous considerations would have been disregarded."
But, Missouri's Supreme Court ruled: "There is nothing in this (case) record to indicate that the conditions referred to actually existed.
"All the record shows is that defendant waived a jury trial and that the court's assent thereto was withheld. The refusal of the court to (approve) defendant's attempted waiver of a jury trial constituted a proper exercise of authority, and we perceive no way in which the rights of the defendant were thereby prejudiced."
Greitens' attorneys said Monday they wouldn't appeal Burlison's trial-by-jury decision.