State v. Bennion

Decision Date18 December 1986
Docket NumberNo. 15717,15717
Citation112 Idaho 32,730 P.2d 952
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Sam H. BENNION, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Ronald L. Swafford and Jeffery K. Ward, of the firm Swafford & Ward, Chartered, Idaho Falls, for appellant. Jeffery K. Ward argued.

Jim Jones, Atty. Gen., Lynn E. Thomas, Sol. Gen., and A. Rene Fitzpatrick, Deputy Atty. Gen., Boise, for respondent. A. Rene Fitzpatrick argued.

HUNTLEY, Justice.

In this case, appellant, Sam H. Bennion, challenges the constitutionality of the provision of the Idaho Traffic Infractions Act (ITIA) which defines infractions as civil offenses rather than as criminal actions, and denies those accused of infractions a right to a jury trial. We hold that the ITIA violates neither the Federal nor the Idaho Constitution.


The facts of this case are undisputed and simple. On March 4, 1984, an Idaho Falls police officer stopped Bennion in his automobile for allegedly passing through an intersection against a red light. To this Bennion pled not guilty. After a trial date was set in the magistrate court of Bonneville County, Bennion made motion for a Bennion was accused of disobeying the instruction of an official traffic control device in violation of I.C. § 49-611(1). The Idaho Traffic Infractions Act defines this as an "infraction," I.C. § 49-3406(1), which is "a civil public offense.... for which there is no right to a trial by jury...." I.C. § 49-3401(3). Bennion challenges both the validity of the Idaho Traffic Infractions Act and the constitutionality of the denial of his right to a jury trial under the Idaho Constitution. 1

[112 Idaho 34] jury trial. This motion was denied. At the subsequent trial, Magistrate Mildred R. McClure found Bennion guilty of the infraction, and fined him $35.00. Bennion appealed the denial of his motion to the district court in Bonneville County (Judge H. Reynold George). Judge George upheld the decision of the magistrate court. This appeal followed.

There is no dispute that the United States Constitution does not require a jury trial in the instant circumstances. The Sixth Amendment provides: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury...." The requirements of the Sixth Amendment pertain to proceedings under state law and in state courts by virtue of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 149, 88 S.Ct. 1444, 1447, 20 L.Ed.2d 491 (1968). However, the United States Supreme Court has further held that "there is a category of petty crimes or offenses which is not subject to the Sixth Amendment jury trial provision and should not be subject to the Fourteenth Amendment jury trial requirement here applied to the States." Id. at 159, 88 S.Ct. at 1452, see also, e.g., District of Columbia v. Clawans, 300 U.S. 617, 625-27, 57 S.Ct. 660, 662-63, 81 L.Ed. 843 (1937) (prosecution for violation of statute prohibiting the selling of unused portions of railway excursion tickets requires no jury trial); Schick v. United States, 195 U.S. 65, 66-68, 24 S.Ct. 826, 826-27, 49 L.Ed. 99 (1904) (prosecution for violation of statute prohibiting the receipt for sale of unstamped oleomargarine, punishable by a $50 fine and no imprisonment, required no jury trial).

The United States Supreme Court has declined to delineate "the exact location of the line between petty offenses and serious crimes," Duncan, supra, 391 U.S. at 161, 88 S.Ct. at 1453, but has afforded considerable guidance. As a measure of what the Sixth Amendment requires, the United Supreme Court observed:

Crimes carrying possible penalties up to six months do not require a jury trial if they otherwise qualify as petty offenses. But the penalty authorized for a particular crime is of major relevance in determining whether it is serious or not and may in itself, if severe enough, subject the trial to the mandates of the Sixth Amendment. The penalty authorized by the law of the locality may be taken "as See also Baldwin v. New York, 399 U.S. 66, 68-69, 90 S.Ct. 1886, 1887-88, 26 L.Ed.2d 437 (1970) ("we have held that a possible six-month penalty is short enough to permit classification of the offense as 'petty,' [citations]"). As a measure of what it considered a fine so "petty" that no jury is warranted, the Court noted that in addition to a maximum of six months in prison, federal petty offense are punishable by a maximum fine of $500. Duncan, supra, 391 U.S. at 161, 88 S.Ct. at 1453 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 1). Such "objective criteria" primarily determine the scope of the Sixth Amendment. Baldwin, supra, 399 U.S. at 68, 90 S.Ct. at 1887. Since the violation of an infraction "is punishable only by a penalty not exceeding one hundred dollars ($100) and no imprisonment," I.C. § 49-3406(1), Bennion concedes, and we agree, that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments do not afford him a jury.

[112 Idaho 35] a gauge of its social and ethical judgment" of the crime in question. Id. at 159-60, 88 S.Ct. at 1452-53 (citations omitted).

Nevertheless, Bennion argues that Article 1, § 7 of the Idaho Constitution guarantees him a jury trial. State constitutions can afford greater procedural protections to accused persons than does the federal constitution. Gibson v. State, 110 Idaho 631, 635, 718 P.2d 283, 287 (1986); State v. Newman, 108 Idaho 5, 10 n. 6; 696 P.2d 856, 861 n. 6 (1985); Hellar v. Cenarrusa, 106 Idaho 586, 590, 682 P.2d 539, 542 (1981); see also, e.g., Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.S. 714, 719, 95 S.Ct. 1215, 1219, 43 L.Ed.2d 570 (1975); City of Pasco v. Mace, 653 P.2d 618, 623 (Wash.1983) (held that Washington Constitution guaranteed a jury trial for an offense which under the federal constitution would be classified as "petty").

As a preliminary matter Bennion argues, the state concedes, and we agree, that although the ITIA defines infractions as "civil public offense[s]," I.C. § 49-3401(3), for purposes of constitutional analysis, they must be considered criminal. Without ambiguity, the Idaho Constitution states, "Every action prosecuted by the people of the state as a party, against a person charged with a public offense, for the punishment of the same, shall be termed a criminal action." Article 5, § 1. This provision by itself, however, does not establish that all criminal actions trigger the right to jury trial contained within Article 1, § 7. On its face, Article 1, § 7 does not expressly preserve the right to jury trial in the case of all criminal actions. Conversely, Article 1, § 7 does not expressly exclude minor criminal actions from its purview.

This Court has not addressed the constitutionality of the provisions of the ITIA which deny jury trials to those accused of infractions; nor has this Court addressed the more general question of whether there exists a category of criminal offenses which are so minor as to fall outside the jury requirement of Article 1, § 7. In McDougall v. Sheridan, 23 Idaho 191, 128 P. 954 (1913), the Court carved out a narrow exception to allow courts "to punish summarily for contempt." Id. at 222, 128 P. at 965. In People v. Burnham, 35 Idaho 522, 207 P. 589 (1922), the state had brought an action against a school teacher "under C.S., sec. 7024, which authorizes the prosecuting attorney to bring such an action 'in the name of the people of the state against any person who usurps, intrudes into, holds or exercises any office or franchise, real or pretended, within this state, without authority by law.' " Id. at 524, 207 P. at 590. By statute, the subsequent proceedings did not require a jury. The Court held that Article 1, § 7 had no application, because (1) the same proceeding did not require a jury at the time of statehood, and (2) the proceeding was civil rather than criminal according to its statutory designation and according to its nature. Id. at 524-26, 207 P. at 590. Neither of these cases established either the existence or nonexistence of a category of minor criminal offenses for which no jury trial is required.

The closest this Court has come to answering this question was in State v. Romich, 67 Idaho 229, 176 P.2d 204 (1946) In none of these cases did the Court reach the constitutionality of I.C. § 49-121 or of jury-less municipal proceedings pursuant to § 49-121. The Court only held that once the proceeding reached the district court, statutory law entitled the defendant to a jury trial. Romich, supra, 67 Idaho at 241, 176 P.2d at 212; Miller, supra, 75 Idaho at 265-66, 270 P.2d at 1012. In Romich, Justice Miller noted that there was "no instance where any provision with respect to trial by jury was enacted for cities or villages until subsequent to the approval and ratification of the Idaho Constitution in 1890." Romich, supra, 67 Idaho at 238-39, 176 P.2d at 210 (Opinion of Miller, J.). Consequently, Justice Miller expressed the view that "because of the provision that the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate [Article 1, § 7], it would seem to us that the legislature could pass no valid act which denied to a defendant in a criminal prosecution under an ordinance or statute the right to a trial by jury." Id. at 239, 176 P.2d at 210. Notwithstanding Justice Miller's use of the pronoun "us," no other justice shared his view. In Winstead, Justice Taylor expressed the view that there never had been the right to a jury in cases involving violations of local police regulations. Winstead, supra, 75 Idaho at 266, 270 P.2d at 1012 (Taylor, J., concurring specially). Again, Justice Taylor's views belonged only to himself.

and [112 Idaho 36] its progeny, State v. Leonard, 67 Idaho 242, 176 P.2d 214 (1946); State v. Brunello, 67 Idaho 242, 176 P.2d 212 (1946); State v. White, 67 Idaho 309, 177 P.2d 472 (1947); and Miller v. Winstead, 75 Idaho 262, 270 P.2d 1010 (1954). In these cases, the Court dealt with I.C. § 49-121, a statute originally enacted in 1913 and now...

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