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[Cite as Patton v. United States, 281 U.S. 276, 298 (1929). Note: This decision regards Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury and Article III, § 2 jurisdiction: whether an accused could wave his right to a full (12 person) jury or if Article III, § 2 mandates a framework for jury trials. While determining a jury trial is a right, the court observed, "The first ten amendments and the original Constitution were substantially contemporaneous and should be construed in pari materia." (P. 298) The phrase "in pari materia" is defined. The Court has made similar comments in Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275, 281-282 (1897), and United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259, 265 (1990).]

[Patton v. United States continued
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[paragraph continued from previous page] time ordain and establish. In pursuance of that authority, Congress, at an early day, established the District and Circuit Courts, and by § 24 of the Judicial Code (U.S. Code, Title 28, § 41 (2)), the circuit courts having been abolished, expressly conferred upon the district courts jurisdiction "of all crimes and offenses cognizable under the authority of the United States." This is a broad and comprehensive grant, and gives the courts named power to try every criminal case cognizable under the authority of the United States, subject to the controlling provisions of the Constitution. In the absence of a valid consent, the district court cannot proceed except with a jury, not because a jury is necessary to its jurisdiction, but because the accused is entitled by the terms of the Constitution to that mode of trial. Since, however, the right to a jury trial may be waived, it would be unreasonable to leave the court powerless to give effect to the waiver and itself dispose of the case. We are of opinion that the court has authority in the exercise of a sound discretion to accept the waiver, and, as a necessary corollary, to proceed to the trial and determination of the case with a reduced number or without a jury; and that jurisdiction to that end is vested by the foregoing statutory provisions. The power of waiver being established, this is the clear import of the decision of this court in Schick v. United States, 195 U.S. 65, 70-71.

"By section 563, Rev. Stat., [superseded by § 24, Judicial Code] the District Courts are given jurisdiction 'of all crimes and offenses cognizable under the authority of the United States, committed within their respective districts, or upon the high seas, the punishment of which is not capital.' There is no act of Congress requiring that the trial of all offenses shall be by jury, and a court is fully organized and competent for the transaction of business without the presence of a jury."(p.300)

See also In re Belt, 159 U.S. 95, and Riddle v. Dyche, 262 U.S. 333, both of which are out of harmony with the notion that the presence of a jury is a constitutional prerequisite to the jurisdiction of the court in a criminal case. The first of these cases involved the validity of an act of Congress authorizing waiver of a jury in criminal cases in the District of Columbia. The Court of Appeals of that District upheld the statute in Belt v. United States, 4 D.C. App.Cas. 25. Leave was asked of this court to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus. Upon this application, the question to be answered was (p. 97):

"Does the ground of this application go to the jurisdiction or authority of the Supreme Court of the District, or rather is it not an allegation of mere error? If the latter, it cannot be reviewed in this proceeding. In re Schneider, 148 U.S. 162, 13 S. Ct. 572, and cases cited." After reviewing authorities, it was held that the Supreme Court of the District had jurisdiction to determine the validity of the act which authorized the waiver, and that its action could not be reviewed on habeas corpus.

In the second case, Riddle, on habeas corpus, assailed a conviction in a federal district court upon the ground that the jury was composed of only eleven men. This court held that the trial court had jurisdiction, and a record showing upon its face that a lawful jury had been impaneled, sworn, and charged could not be collaterally impeached. The remedy was by writ of error.

This conclusion in respect of the jurisdiction of the courts, notwithstanding the peremptory words of the Third Article of the Constitution, is fortified by a consideration of certain provisions of the Judiciary Act of 1789. That act was passed shortly after the organization of the government under the Constitution, and on the day preceding the proposal of the first ten amendments by the first Congress. Among the members of that Congress were many who had participated in the (p.301)convention which framed the Constitution, and the act has always been considered, in relation to that instrument, as a contemporaneous exposition of the highest authority. Capital Traction Company v. Hof, supra, pp. 9, 10, and cases cited. Section 9 of that act provides that "the trial of issues in [of] fact, in the district courts, in all causes except civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, shall be by jury." Section 12 provides that "the trial of issues in [of] fact in the circuit courts shall, in all suits, except those of equity, and of admiralty, and maritime jurisdiction, be by jury."

It will be observed that this language is mandatory in form, and is precisely the same as that of Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution. It is fair to assume that the framers of the statute, in using the words of the Constitution, intended they should have the same meaning; and if the purpose of the latter was jurisdictional, it is not easy to avoid the conclusion that the purpose of the former was the same. But this court had always held, beginning at an early day, that, notwithstanding the imperative language of the statute, it was competent for the parties to waive a trial by jury. The early cases are collected in a footnote to Kearney v. Case, 12 Wall. 275, 281, following the statement:

"Undoubtedly both the Judiciary Act and the amendment to the Constitution secured the right to either party in a suit at common law to a trial by jury, and we are also of opinion that the statute of 1789 intended to point out this as the mode of trial in issues of fact in such cases. Numerous decisions, however, had settled that this right to a jury trial might be waived by the parties, and that the judgment of the court in such cases should be valid."

The Seventh Amendment, which is here referred to, provides, in respect of suits at common law involving a value exceeding twenty dollars, that "the right of trial (p.302)by jury shall be preserved"; and it is significant that this language and the positive provision of the statute that "the trial of issues in fact ... shall be by jury" were regarded as synonymous.

Another ground frequently relied upon for denying the power of a person accused of a serious crime to waive trial by jury is that such a proceeding is against public policy. The decisions are conflicting. The leading case in support of the proposition, and one which has influenced other decisions advancing similar views, is Cancemi v. People, 18 N.Y. 128, 137-138. In that case Cancemi was indicted for the crime of murder. After a jury had been impaneled and sworn, and the trial begun, under a stipulation made by the prisoner and his counsel and counsel for the people, and with the express consent and request of the prisoner, a juror was withdrawn, and a verdict subsequently rendered by the remaining eleven jurors. On appeal a judgment based upon this verdict was reversed. The case was decided in 1858, and the question was regarded by the court as one of first impression. The following excerpt from the opinion indicates the basis of the decision:

"The state, the public, have an interest in the preservation of the liberties and the lives of the citizens, and will not allow them to be taken away 'without due process of law' (Const. art. 1, § 6), when forfeited, as they may be, as a punishment for crimes. Criminal prosecutions proceed on the assumption of such a forfeiture, which, to sustain them, must be ascertained and declared as the law has prescribed. Blackstone (vol. 4, 189) says: 'The king has an interest in the preservation of all his subjects.' ... Objections to jurors may be waived; the court may be substituted for triers to dispose of challenges to jurors; secondary in place of primary evidence may be received; admissions of facts (p.303)are allowed; and in similar particulars, as well as in relation to mere formal proceedings generally, consent will render valid, what without it would be erroneous. A plea of guilty to any indictment, whatever may be the grade of the crime, will be received and acted upon if it is made clearly to appear that the nature and effect of it are understood by the accused. In such a case the preliminary investigation of a grand jury, with the admission of the accusation in the indictment, is supposed to be a sufficient safeguard to the public interests. But when issue is joined upon an indictment, the trial must be by the tribunal and in the mode which the constitution and laws provide, without any essential change. The public officer prosecuting for the people had no authority to consent to such a change, nor has the defendant.

"Applying the above reasoning to the present case, the conclusion necessarily follows, that the consent of the plaintiff in error to the withdrawal of one juror, and that the remaining eleven might render a verdict, could not lawfully be recognized by the court, at the circuit, and was a nullity. If a deficiency of one juror might be waived, there appears to be no good reason why a deficiency of eleven might not be; and it is difficult to say why, upon the same principle, the entire panel might not be dispensed with, and the trial committed to the court alone. It would be a highly dangerous innovation, in reference to criminal cases, upon the ancient and invaluable institution of trial by jury, and the constitution and laws establishing and securing that mode of trial, for the court to allow of any number short of a full panel of twelve jurors, and we think it ought not to be tolerated."

A decision flatly to the contrary, and one fairly representative of others to the same effect, is State v. Kaufman, 51 Iowa, 578. The defendant there was indicted (p.304)for forgery. Upon the trial, one of the jurors, being ill, was discharged with the consent of the defendant, and the trial concluded with the remaining eleven. There was a verdict of guilty. Upon appeal the verdict was upheld. The authorities upon the question are reviewed, and in the course of the opinion the court says (pp. 579-580):

"A plea of guilty ordinarily dispenses with a jury trial, and it is thereby waived. This, it seems to us, effectually destroys the force of the thought that 'the State, the public, have an interest in the preservation of the lives and the liberties of the citizens, and will not allow them to be taken away without due process of law.' The same thought is otherwise expressed by Blackstone, vol. 4, p. 189, that 'the king has an interest in the preservation of all his subjects.'

"It matters not whether the defendant is in fact guilty, the plea of guilty is just as effectual as if such was the case. Reasons other than the fact that he is guilty may induce a defendant to so plead, and thereby the State may be deprived of the services of the citizen, and yet the State never actively interferes in such case, and the right of the defendant to so plead has never been doubted. He must be permitted to judge for himself in this respect. So in the case at bar. The defendant may have consented to be tried by eleven jurors because his witnesses were there present and he might not be able to get them again, or that it was best he should be tried by the jury as thus constituted. Why should he not be permitted to do so? Why hamper him in this respect? Why restrain his liberty or right to do as he believed to be for his interest? Whatever rule is adopted affects not only the defendant, but all others similarly situated, no matter how much they desire to avail themselves of the right to do what the defendant desires to repudiate. We are unwilling to establish such a rule."(p.305)

Referring to the statement in the Cancemi case, that it would be a highly dangerous innovation to allow any number short of a full panel of twelve jurors and one not to be tolerated, it is said (p. 581):

"This would have been much more convincing and satisfactory if we had been informed why it would be 'highly dangerous' and should 'not be tolerated,' or at least, something which has a tendency in that direction. For if it be true, as stated, it certainly would not be difficult to give a satisfactory reason in support of the strong language used."

See, also, State v. Sackett, 39 Minn. 69, where the court concludes its discussion of the subject by saying (p. 72):

"The wise and beneficent provisions found in the constitution and statutes designed for the welfare and protection of the accused, may be waived, in matters of form and substance, when jurisdiction has been acquired, and within such limits as the trial court, exercising a sound discretion in behalf of those before it, may permit. The defendants, having formally waived a juror, and stipulated to try their case with 11, cannot now claim that there was a fatal irregularity in their trial."

It is difficult to see why the fact, frequently suggested, that the accused may plead guilty and thus dispense with a trial altogether, does not effectively disclose the fallacy of the public policy contention; for if the state may interpose the claim of public interest between the accused and his desire to waive a jury trial, a fortiori it should be able to interpose a like claim between him and his determination to avoid any form of trial by admitting his guilt. If he be free to decide the question for himself in the latter case, notwithstanding the interest of society in the preservation of his life and liberty, why should he be denied the power to do so in the former? It is no answer to say that by pleading guilty there is nothing left for a jury to try, for that simply ignores the question, which is not (p.306)what is the effect of the plea? the answer to which is fairly obvious, but, in view of the interest of the public in the life and liberty of the accused, can the plea be accepted and acted upon, or must the question of guilt be submitted to a jury at all events? Moreover, the suggestion is wholly beside the point, which is that public policy is not so inconsistent as to permit the accused to dispense with every form of trial by a plea of guilty, and yet forbid him to dispense with a particular form of trial by consent.

The truth is that the theory of public policy embodies a doctrine of vague and variable quality, and, unless deducible in the given circumstances from constitutional or statutory provisions, should be accepted as the basis of a judicial determination, if at all, only with the utmost circumspection. The public policy of one generation may not, under changed conditions, be the public policy of another.

It may be conceded, at least generally, that under the rule of the common law the accused was not permitted to waive trial by jury, as generally he was not permitted to waive any right which was intended for his protection. Nevertheless, in the Colonies such a waiver and trial by the court without a jury was by no means unknown, as the many references contained in the brief of the Solicitor General conclusively show. But this phase of the matter we do not stop to consider, for the rule of the common law, whether exclusive or subject to exceptions, was justified by conditions which no longer exist; and as the Supreme Court of Nevada well said in Reno Smelting Works v. Stevenson, 20 Nev. 269, 279:

"It is contrary to the spirit of the common law itself to apply a rule founded on a particular reason to a case where that reason utterly fails,--cessante ratione legis, cessat ipsa lex."(p.307)

The maxim seems strikingly apposite to the question here under review. Among other restraints at common law, the accused could not testify in his own behalf; in felonies he was not allowed counsel (IV Sharswood's Blackstone, 355, Note 14), the judge in such cases occupying the place of counsel for the prisoner, charged with the responsibility of seeing that the prisoner did not suffer from lack of other counsel (id.); and conviction of crime worked an attaint and forfeiture of official titles of inheritance, which, as Judge Aldrich points out (quotation supra), constituted in a large sense the reason for withholding holding from accused parties the right of waiver.

These conditions have ceased to exist, and with their disappearance justification for the old rule, no longer rests upon a substantial basis. In this respect we fully agree with what was said by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin in Hack v. State, 141 Wis. 346, 351-352:

"The ancient doctrine that the accused could waive nothing was unquestionably founded upon the anxiety of the courts to see that no innocent man should be convicted. It arose in those days when the accused could not testify in his own behalf, was not furnished counsel, and was punished, if convicted, by the death penalty, or some other grievous punishment out of all proportion to the gravity of his crime. Under such circumstances it was well, perhaps, that such a rule should exist, and well that every technical requirement should be insisted on, when the state demanded its meed of blood. Such a course raised up a sort of a barrier which the court could utilize when a prosecution was successful which ought not to have been successful, or when a man without money, without counsel, without ability to summon witnesses, and not permitted to tell his own story, has been unjustly convicted, but yet under the ordinary principles of waiver, (p.308)as applied to civil matters, had waived every defect in the proceedings.

"Thanks to the humane policy of the modern criminal law, we have changed all these conditions. The man now charged with crime is furnished the most complete opportunity for making his defense. He may testify in his own behalf; if he be poor, he may have counsel furnished him by the state, and may have his witnesses summoned and paid for by the state; not infrequently he is thus furnished counsel more able than the attorney for the state. In short the modern law has taken as great pains to surround the accused person with the means to effectively make his defense as the ancient law took pains to prevent that consummation. The reasons which in some sense justified the former attitude of the courts have therefore disappeared, save perhaps in capital cases, and the question is, Shall we adhere to the principle based upon conditions no longer existing? No sound reason occurs to us why a person accused of a lesser crime or misdemeanor, who comes into court with his attorney, fully advised of all his rights, and furnished with every means of making his defense, should not be held to waive a right or privilege for which he does not ask, just as a party to a civil action waives such a right by not asking for it."

The view that power to waive a trial by jury in criminal cases should be denied on grounds of public policy must be rejected as unsound.

It is not denied that a jury trial may be waived in the case of petty offenses, but the contention is that the rule is otherwise in the case of crimes of the magnitude of the one here under consideration. There are decisions to that effect, and also decisions to the contrary. The conflict is marked and direct. Schick v. United States, supra, is thought to favor the contention. There the prosecution (p.309)was for a violation of the Oleomargarine Act (24 Stat. 209), punishable by fine only. By agreement in writing a jury was waived and the issue submitted to the court. Judgment was for the United States. This court held that the offense was a petty one, and sustained the waiver. It was said that the word "crimes" in Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution, should be read in the light of the common law, and so read, it does not include petty offenses; and that neither the constitutional provisions nor any rule of public policy prevented the defendant from waiving a jury trial. The question whether the power of waiver extended to serious offenses was not directly involved, and is not concluded by that decision. Mr. Justice Harlan, in a dissenting opinion, after reviewing the authorities, concluded (p. 83) that "The grounds upon which the decisions rest are, upon principle, applicable alike in cases of felonies and misdemeanors, although the consequences to the accused may be more evident as well as more serious in the former than in the latter cases."

Although we reject the general view of the dissenting opinion that a waiver of jury trial is not valid in any criminal case, we accept the foregoing statement as entirely sound. We are unable to find in the decisions any convincing ground for holding that a waiver is effective in misdemeanor cases, but not effective in the case of felonies. In most of the decisions no real attempt is made to establish a distinction, beyond the assertion that public policy favors the power of waiver in the former, but denies it in the latter because of the more serious consequences in the form of punishment which may ensue. But that suggested differentiation, in the light of what has now been said, seems to us more fanciful than real. The Schick case, it is true, dealt with a petty offense, but, in view of the conclusions we have already (p.310)reached and stated, the observations of the court (pp. 71-72) have become equally pertinent where a felony is involved:

"Article six of the amendments, as we have seen, gives the accused a right to a trial by jury. But the same article gives him the further right 'to be confronted with the witnesses against him ... and to have the assistance of counsel.' Is it possible that an accused cannot admit, and be bound by the admission, that a witness not present would testify to certain facts? Can it be that if he does not wish the assistance of counsel, and waives it, the trial is invalid? It seems only necessary to ask these questions to answer them. When there is no constitutional or statutory mandate, and no public policy prohibiting, an accused may waive any privilege which he is given the right to enjoy."

In Commonwealth v. Beard, 48 Pa. Super. Ct. 319, the prosecution was for conspiracy, and there, as here, one of the jurors was discharged and the trial concluded with the remaining eleven. Judgment on a verdict of conviction was sustained. The court, after reviewing the conflicting decisions, was unable to find any good reason for differentiating in the matter of waiver between the two classes of crimes. We fully indorse its concluding words upon that subject (pp. 323-324):

"It surely cannot be true that the public is interested in the protection of an accused in proportion to the magnitude of his offending--that its solicitude goes out to the great offender but not to the small--that there is a difference in point of sacredness between constitutional rights when asserted by one charged with a grave crime and when asserted by one charged with a lesser one. Hence, when it is held in Schick v. U.S., 195 U.S. 65, (24 Sup. Ct. Repr. 826), that in trials for the lowest grades of offenses the accused may waive, not only the continued presence of the full number of jurors required (p.311)to make up a jury, but the right to trial by jury, the only possible conclusion is that the purely theoretical element of public concern, as potential to override the accused's own free choice and render him effectually unfree even before conviction and sentence, cannot be regarded as in reality much of a factor in any case."

This view of the matter subsequently had the approval of the Supreme Court of the state in Commonwealth ex rel. Ross v. Egan, 281 Pa. 251. After noting the conflict of authority, and that a waiver has been held to be effective in a number of states which are named, it is there said (pp. 255, 256, 257):

"A defendant is supposed to understand his rights, and may be aided, if he so desires, by counsel to advise him. There are many legal provisions for his security and benefit which he may dispense with absolutely, as, for instance, his right to plead guilty and submit to sentence without any trial whatsoever."


"The theory upon which the opposing cases are decided seems to rest on the proposition that society at large is as much interested in an impartial trial of a defendant, who may be sentenced to imprisonment, as he himself is, and therefore no permission to waive any right, when charged with a felony, should be accorded to him. There may be reason for applying this rule to capital cases, as has been done in Pennsylvania, but such a principle ought not to be invoked to relieve those charged with lesser offenses, such as larceny (though technically denominated a felony), from the consequences of their own voluntary act, and, where it appears by the record that consent to the course pursued was freely given, the defendant should not be heard thereafter to complain."


"The solution of the question depends upon the determination whether a trial by less than twelve is an irregularity or a nullity. If the latter be held, no sentence imposed may be sustained, but the contrary is true, if the former and correct conclusion be reached. In the case of misdemeanors, the Superior Court has sustained the sentences where a voluntary waiver appeared. Com. v. Beard, supra. No real justification for a different decision in the case of felonies, not capital, can be supported."

See also Commonwealth v. Rowe, 257 Mass. 172, 174-176; State v. Ross, 47 S.D. 188, 192-193, involving a misdemeanor, but followed in State v. Tiedeman, 49 S.D. 356, 360, involving a felony.

In affirming the power of the defendant in any criminal case to waive a trial by a constitutional jury and submit to trial by a jury of less than twelve persons, or by the court, we do not mean to hold that the waiver must be put into effect at all events. That perhaps sufficiently appears already. Trial by jury is the normal and, with occasional exceptions, the preferable mode of disposing of issues of fact in criminal cases above the grade of petty offenses. In such cases the value and appropriateness of jury trial have been established by long experience, and are not now to be denied. Not only must the right of the accused to a trial by a constitutional jury be jealously preserved, but the maintenance of the jury as a fact-finding body in criminal cases is of such importance and has such a place in our traditions, that, before any waiver can become effective, the consent of government counsel and the sanction of the court must be had, in addition to the express and intelligent consent of the defendant. And the duty of the trial court in that regard is not to be discharged as a mere matter of rote, but with sound and advised discretion, with an eye to avoid unreasonable or undue departures from that mode of (p.313)trial or from any of the essential elements thereof, and with a caution increasing in degree as the offenses dealt with increase in gravity.

The question submitted must be answered in the affirmative.

It is so ordered.

The Chief Justice took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Mr. Justice Sanford participated in the consideration and agreed to a disposition of the case in accordance with this opinion.

Mr. Justice Holmes, Mr. Justice Brandeis, and Mr. Justice Stone concur in the result.

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