Louisiana v. Shallerhorn
Opinion Date: June 27, 2023
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was a matter of first impression: whether a defendant who is charged with first degree murder can elect a bench trial when the state has filed a formal notice that it will not seek capital punishment. The question presented involved the interpretation of Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure article 780, specifically the meaning of the phrase “an offense other than one punishable by death.” In February 2021, defendant John Shallerhorn was arrested for several offenses, including on suspicion of first degree murder. The state filed notice that “for any charges for which the grand jury returns an indictment in [this] case, the State will elect to forego capital punishment.” Shallerhorn was ultimately indicted for first degree murder and armed robbery. Defendant filed a motion for a bench trial, seeking to waive his right to a trial by jury pursuant to the provisions of La. C.Cr.P. article 780. The state opposed this motion, and the trial court, agreeing with the state, denied it. The trial court noted that though the state was not currently pursuing the death penalty, “if something changes at the DA’s office and somehow death is back on the table,” then the defendant could not waive a jury and elect a bench trial. The Supreme Court held that after the state provides formal notice that it will not seek the death penalty, and thereby elects to prosecute the offense of first degree murder as a non-capital case, a defendant may waive a trial by jury and elect a bench trial.
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