People accused of violating city ordinances that regulate strippers are not entitled to have their guilt or innocence decided by a jury, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
The appellate judges unanimously rejected arguments by employees of Skin, a Scottsdale business featuring live exotic dancing, that their constitutional rights to a trial by jury would be violated if they were tried solely by a city magistrate. The judges said the right to trial by jury is not available to everyone.
Thursday's ruling is a victory for Scottsdale attorneys who want the case heard only by a magistrate.
The case involves 13 dancers who were charged with violating three city regulations.
One prohibits patrons from placing money on the body or costume of dancers. A second requires that dancers remain at least 3 feet from patrons, with a railing in between.
And a third requires performers to be licensed by the city.
A manager faces related charges.
The appeal came after a city magistrate refused their request for a jury trial, a decision upheld by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge.
Appellate Judge Jon Thompson, writing for the court, said two sections of the Arizona Constitution guarantee the right of a trial by jury. But he said those provisions are not absolute.
One governs only crimes which were eligible for jury trials when Arizona became a state in 1912. The other covers crimes the Legislature or whoever adopted the law considered "serious," regardless of the punishment available.
Thompson acknowledged the Arizona territory had a law against indecent exposure, a law that did entitle those charged with violating it to a jury trial. But he said the Scottsdale ordinance simply regulates nude dancing and does not prohibit it outright.
As to the issue of whether the crime is "serious," Thompson said the general rule of thumb is that no right of a jury trial exists for misdemeanors which have a punishment of no greater than six months in jail. That is the maximum penalty for the charges at issue here.
Thompson said the fact that the manager could have his license to do business suspended, above and beyond the criminal sanction, does not elevate the crime to serious.
"The loss of the right to manage a sexually oriented business does not approximate the severity of a prison term," the judge wrote.