A criminal defendant’s right to a trial by a jury of his peers is a very fundamental constitutional right in Maryland and the rest of the United States. To make sure that this right is protected, Maryland law has established some very specific processes that must be completed before a defendant’s right to a jury trial will be considered to have been waived and the case decided by a judge. If you did not get a jury trial despite having never entered a valid waiver of your rights, then you may be entitled to a new trial. For advice and counsel on these and other criminal law issues, be sure to retain an experienced Maryland criminal law attorney.
As an example of this right in action, there’s the case of S.H. S.H. was accused of having committed a series of 25 thefts in Calvert County over a six-week period. After much delay, the accused man’s case reached a plea hearing. At that hearing, the defendant indicated that he wanted a jury trial. Later that day, at a different hearing in front of a different judge, the two sides informed the judge that they’d agreed to try the case without a jury. The case proceeded and the judge found S.H. guilty on all but two charges. Sentencing immediately followed.
The accused man appealed his conviction and was able to obtain a new trial. The success was one that resulted from the very strict procedural requirements that exist for trying a criminal defendant without a jury. Specifically, the law requires that a defendant must do more than just say, “I waive my right to a jury trial.” Instead, the defendant must waive that right in such a way that it is proven to have been a knowing and voluntary waiver of rights, and the judge must make a finding that is included in the case’s record that says that the waiver was knowing and voluntary.
In S.H.’s case, the proper procedures were not followed. At the defendant’s initial plea hearing, the judge discussed S.H.’s right to a jury trial. At that point, the defendant said that he wanted a jury trial, which would be a clear indication that he was not waiving his right to a trial by jury at that point.
At the later hearing, the two sides indicated that they were ready to proceed in a bench trial (trial without a jury.) This was the first indication of a waiver by the accused man. The judge, at that point, did not engage S.H. in any type of discussion about his right to a jury trial (in order to confirm that his waiver was indeed a knowing and voluntary one) and, in fact, never made any on-the-record findings that the waiver was knowing and voluntary.
When those things don’t happen, then the law in Maryland says that you are entitled to a new trial, which is what the appeals court ordered in S.H.’s case.
The Maryland judicial system contains many protections for criminal defendants. Getting the full benefit of them often requires extensive skill and an in-depth knowledge of the law. To get that kind of experience and knowledge on your side, retain Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been diligently representing the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.