Articles Posted in Right to Jury Trial

When you are facing criminal charges in Maryland, you have several essential decisions you have to make. One of the most important of these is deciding whether your guilt or innocence will be decided by a jury or by a judge. (The former is called a jury trial and the latter is called a “bench trial.”) You have a right to a jury trial and a jury will hear your case unless you communicate a valid waiver of that right. When it comes to making this and other critical decisions, be sure to rely on the advice of a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney to help you throughout the process.

There are actually several good reasons why you might want your case heard by a judge instead of a jury. Let’s say, for example, your skilled defense attorney has crafted a potentially winning, but highly technical, defense based upon very complex scientific information or highly dense legal concepts, doctrines and rules. In either of those cases, you might prefer a bench trial where the details of your defense are less likely to be lost on a judge as opposed to a jury. Additionally, if the facts of your case are the sort of things that might inflame the passions of the jury against you (such as sex crimes or child abuse), then you might want the dispassionate perspective of a judge and not a jury who could be more likely to let their emotions get the better of them.

If you decide that you want a trial by judge, there’s a very specific procedure that must be completed in order to make that happen. Another possible advantage for you as a defendant is that if the court fails to go through those required procedures, goes forward with a bench trial and ultimately finds you guilty, then you may be able to use those procedural errors to get your conviction reversed because the court violated your rights.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees citizens who have been charged with a crime the right to a trial by an impartial jury. The jury selection process serves to ensure that a panel of jurors is chosen fairly. Accordingly, under Maryland criminal law, prosecutors (the state’s counsel) and defense counsel are each afforded a certain number of “peremptory” challenges to the selection of a prospective juror. Clearly, the impartiality of a jury can have a dramatic impact in the outcome of a criminal case. To ensure that this aspect of your case — as well as every issue that arises from the moment of arrest — is handled fairly and appropriately, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Counsel in a criminal case may object to a prospective juror in one of two ways:  1) asserting a challenge “for cause,” or 2) employing a “peremptory” challenge – an objection without needing to give a reason. Peremptory challenges are limited and may not be invoked on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity. In order to determine whether a peremptory challenge is fair and legitimate, Maryland courts apply a three-step process established by the United States Supreme Court in the Batson v. Kentucky decision.

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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.

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