Waiving Your Right to Jury Trial in Maryland

673264_hammer_to_fallWhen accused of a crime in Maryland, you are entitled to a jury trial. Whether or not a jury trial is the best option for you depends upon the facts of your case. In certain cases there may be good reasons to waive a jury trial and your criminal defense attorney can explain the pros and cons to you. However, before a trial judge can accept a waiver, he or she will advise you about the charges brought against you, the possible penalties and the nature of a jury trial.

Under Maryland Rule 4-246(b), a trial court must first examine you in open court in order to determine that you made the waiver of your right to a jury trial “knowingly and voluntarily.” He or she will announce this finding on the record.

In a recent case, the judge did not follow the rule exactly. The defendant’s attorney asked him if he was sure he wanted a jury trial and told him the judge would ask him a few questions. The judge asked the defendant whether he understood the charges. He also recited the charges and the penalties for them, as well as a recitation about his right to a jury trial in which all twelve jurors would have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt in order for him to be found guilty. When the defendant said he understood, the court stated on the record that it found he waived his right to a jury trial.

The defendant was convicted of burglary, assault, and a sex offense. Accordingly, the court imposed consecutive sentences of ten years, ten years, and one year, respectively.

The appellate court looked at an earlier pair of cases in which, instead of explaining the charges, the right and asking the defendant whether he waived his right, he asked on one occasion, “It is my understanding you are waiving your right to a jury trial and have [His] Honor hear the case today?” and “Do you wish to have, to elect a bench trial?” In those cases, the Court of Appeal found that the judge should have made an express statement on the record that the defendant acted knowingly and voluntarily—he should have announced his findings. Therefore, the cases were sent back for trial. The appellate court further noted that the question of whether a trial waiver was valid was preserved even though a defendant didn’t object to the fact that the judge hadn’t announced his finding of a knowing and voluntary waiver on the record.

In the instant case, the defendant was advised of the charges, penalties and nature of a jury trial, but the mere claim “I find that he has waived his right to a jury trial” was not sufficient. The appellate court ruled that the judge should have announced it was a knowing and voluntary waiver. As with the cases described above, the defendant did not need to object to the judge’s failure at the time of the occurrence in order to preserve the issue for appeal.

Consult an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney to get the best defense for your case. Contact Anthony A. Fatemi and his legal team for a consultation at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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