Is There a Right to Trial By Jury in Maryland for Petty Theft?

In a recent case, a woman appealed her conviction of theft less than $100. The statutory punishment was imprisonment not exceeding 90 days or a fine not exceeding $500 or both. When the woman asked for a jury trial, her case was forwarded to a circuit court. The State of Maryland made a motion to send the case back to the District Court on the basis that she was not entitled to jury trial because the penalty for theft less than $100 was not more than 90 days. The court granted the state’s request.

The woman argued on appeal that the circuit court erred in sending the case back. She claimed she had a constitutional right to trial by jury simply by virtue of the fact she was charged with theft. The State argued that the appeal had to be dismissed because there was no final judgment. In Maryland, an appeal is usually only heard after entry of final judgment. One exception to the final judgment rule is the collateral order doctrine and this was what the defendant asserted on appeal.

In order for the collateral order doctrine to apply, there must be (1) conclusive determination of a question in dispute, (2) resolution of a critical issue, (3) resolution of an issue that is completely separate from the merits, and (4) a resolution that is effectively unreviewable on appeal from final judgment.

The woman argued that she would be deprived of her right to jury trial, but the court disagreed. It explained that if convicted, she could appeal to the circuit court and have a de novo jury trial.

The court concluded the woman was not entitled to a jury trial and the collateral order doctrine was not satisfied. It explained that whether Maryland’s constitutional right to a jury trial attached to different types of crimes was based on three factors. First, is the offense a petty offense subject to decision by justices of the peace or is it historically tried before juries. Second, is the accusedsubject to an infamous penalty—a significant penalty imposed by statute or incarceration? Third, is the offense considered serious?

The court explained that in previous cases where the theft was minor (e.g. corn worth $1) it was considered petty larceny, a felony carrying an 18-monthimprisonment. In that case, the court explained that the right to jury trial did not attach to many minor crimes. Even though larceny was a felony, it was not an “infamous” crime. Even so, the court held that the right to jury trial attached to petty larceny.

In this case, the court reasoned that petty theft theft was historically tried before justices of the peace, not juries and this suggested a jury trial would not be appropriate. It noted that theft regardless of amount has always been a serious offense. However, it also explained that petty theft had been bifurcated into two categories, one serious and the other less so. Since the maximum prison sentence was 90 days to reflect it was less serious, the court found that the right to jury trial did not attach to theft of property less than $100.

If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you should consult with an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney. We will develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More Blogs

Criminal Email Harassment in Maryland,  Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, February 12, 2014

Bill of Particulars in Maryland Criminal Defense, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, January 25, 2014


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