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.
Look at the case of R.F. R.F. was facing two charges on sex-related crimes. The court began the trial and stated that “I take it this is a bench trial.” R.F.’s lawyer said, “Yes, your Honor, please.” With that, the state called its first witness.
At that point, you might think everything is all set… but it’s not. Maryland law requires a two-step process to establish a valid waiver of the defendant’s right to a jury trial. The first part involves the judge, the prosecutor or the defense attorney questioning the defendant in open court in order to establish that the defendant made his choice both knowingly and voluntarily. Second, the judge must make a finding on the record that the defendant waived his right in a knowing and voluntary way.
Neither of those things happened in R.F.’s case. When either of those things doesn’t happen and the defendant is tried by a judge without a jury, that is a violation of the defendant’s fundamental constitutional rights and entitles him to a new trial.
Wherever you are in your criminal case, your defense can benefit from skilled counsel. To protect your rights, put the legal skill and experience of Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi on your side. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Maryland Court Orders a New Trial in Criminal Case Due to Violation of Batson Ruling, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, March 8, 2016
Maryland Court Reviews Another Case Concerning the Waiver of a Jury Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 22, 2014