A defendant in a criminal case has certain identifiable rights under Maryland state law, such as the right to a trial by jury. As we discussed in a recent blog post, a defendant may elect to waive the right to a jury trial at any time before the trial begins. But there are certain important criteria that must be met before a court may accept the defendant’s waiver (if he or she so chooses). It is important to know and thoroughly understand your rights to be able to make an informed decision throughout the process. If you have been arrested or charged with committing a crime, you are encouraged to seek the help of an experienced criminal attorney as soon as possible.
Just two months after the decision in Nalls & Melvin v. State, a consolidated case in which the court addressed the waiver of the right to a jury trial and the requirements to preserve an appeal of same, the court once again addressed the issue in another recent case. Here, defendant was convicted of six counts of theft and “theft scheme” between $1,000 and $10,000, and sentenced to ten years of incarceration with all but seven years suspended as well as five years of probation. The only issue on appeal in this case relates to the defendant’s waiver of the right to a jury trial under Rule 4-246. Specifically, the question concerns whether the trial court complied with the requirements under the Rule.
According to the transcript of the proceedings, the court asked the defendant if he freely and voluntarily decided to waive his right to a jury trial. The defendant indicated yes and the court responded in pertinent part, “I’m going to rule that you have knowingly and intelligently waived your right to a jury trial.” The defendant did not object to the court’s ruling and the trial proceeded before the court. As mentioned above, the defendant was convicted of various counts of theft and he appealed, arguing primarily that the court failed to state on the record that he voluntarily waived the right to a trial by jury. While the State acknowledged that the Rule requires strict compliance, it nonetheless argued that appellant made a voluntary waiver.
Rule 4-246 requires the court to determine and announce on the record that a defendant’s waiver is made “knowingly and voluntarily.” Case law interpreting the Rule clearly indicates that the record must reflect that the trial court explicitly found that a defendant waived a jury trial both voluntarily and knowingly. In the case at hand, however, the defendant did not raise a “contemporaneous” objection. Under the Nalls & Melvin case referred to above, the court found that a contemporaneous objection is a necessary predicate for appellate review. Therefore, the court of special appeals held that appellant’s challenge to the adequacy of his waiver was not preserved for appellate review and cannot be heard and decided by the court.
This case is a classic illustration of the need to consult with an experienced criminal attorney when confronted with an arrest or criminal charges. Anthony A. Fatemi has a great deal of experience handling criminal defense cases in Maryland. Our office will work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
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