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State of Louisiana v. Timothy Bazile, Supreme Court of Louisiana, Docket No. 2012-KA-2243

Timothy Bazile was indicted by a grand jury for the second degree murder of his wife, Kendra. On May 18, 2011, the district court first set an October 3, 2011 trial date and notice was given to Bazile and his counsel in open court. Bazile subsequently attempted to waive his right to a jury trial after a colloquy with the district judge at a hearing on September 19, 2011. However, the State objected, arguing that Bazile's waiver was made in less than forty-five days prior to trial in violation of an newly enacted amendment to the Louisiana Constitution, La. Const. art. I, sec. 17(A). The district judge made no ruling on the State's objection at that time.

 

On the first day of trial, Bazile asked for a continuance on the ground that the State had failed to fully comply with discovery requests. Overruling the State's objection, the district court set a new trial date of October 11, 2011. Further, giving effect to Bazile's September 19, 2011 jury trial waiver, the new trial was set to proceed before the district judge alone without a jury. The State again objected, arguing the Bazile failed to waive trial by jury within the required time limitations under La. Const. art. I, sec. 17(A). In an attempt to overcome the State's objection, Bazile offered to re-set trial beyond forty-five days from the earlier waiver. But, the State objected to this offer as well, arguing a continuance does not extend the forty-five day period. It was the State's position that, whenever Bazile's trial was held, the mode of trial would be a trial before a jury because the forty-five day period contemplated by La. Const. art. I, sec. 17(A) had already run before the original October 3, 2011 trial date. The district judge ruled that Bazile had a right to waive a jury trial at any time before trial under the federal constitution; and, in turn, the Louisiana constitutional provision which imposed limits on that right was unconstitutional. The State sought a writ for review but was given no relief from the First Circuit Court of Appeal. The State then applied to the Louisiana Supreme Court for review.

 

After its review of the record, the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the constitutionality of La. Const. art. I, sec. 17(A) was raised by the district court sua sponte, not the parties. When the matter was once more before the district court, Bazile did file a "Motion to Declare Constitutional Amendment Unconstitutional," claiming La. Const. art. I, sec. 17(A), as amended in 2010, violated the United States Constitution. Nonetheless, the Louisiana Supreme Court found that, since there is no explicit or implicit federal or state constitutional right to demand trial before a judge sitting alone, the district court's ruling was erroneous. Accordingly, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

 

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