Maryland Court Of Special Appeals Considers Constitutional Right To Trial By Jury

The right to be represented by counsel arises under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as does another important constitutional right, which was recently addressed by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals: the right to have a case tried to a jury. The Sixth Amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury…”

In Abe v. Maryland, the defendant, Stephanie Ann Abe, was charged in the District Court for Allegany County with theft of property valued at less than $100, which is punishable by “imprisonment not exceeding 90 days or a fine not exceeding $500 or both.” After Abe requested a jury trial, her case was forwarded to the circuit court. The circuit court remanded the case back to the District Court, holding that Abe was not entitled to a jury trial because the maximum penalty for theft charge did not exceed 90 days imprisonment.

Maryland Code § 4-302(e)(2)(i) provides, “[U]nless the penalty for the offense with which the defendant is charged permits imprisonment for a period in excess of 90 days, a defendant is not entitled to a jury trial in a criminal case.”

Abe appealed the denial of a jury trial to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, arguing that she had a constitutional right to trial by jury. In concluding that Abe was not entitled to a jury trial for the theft charge, the Court of Special Appeals analyzed three factors:

• Was the petty offense subject to decision by justices of the peace, or was it an offense historically tried before juries?
• Was the accused subject to an infamous penalty, i.e. a significant penalty imposed by statute or incarceration?
• Was the offense considered serious?

The Court concluded that petty theft was historically tried before justices of the peace and not to a jury, thereby suggesting that a jury trial would not be appropriate in Abe’s instance. The Court did recognize that theft had always been considered a serious offense, however, petty theft was divided into two categories: one that provided for a more serious sentence of imprisonment not exceeding 18 months, and the other a less serious sentence, imposing imprisonment not exceeding 90 days. The Court resolved that, because Abe’s offense was punishable only by a maximum prison sentence of 90 days, it was a less serious offense to which the right to a jury trial did not attach.

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.