Maryland Court Of Appeals Reverses Criminal Defendant’s Waiver Of Jury Trial

Recently, this blog discussed various aspects of a criminal defendant’s constitutional rights to have a case tried before a jury under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Sixth Amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury…” The right to be tried by a jury, like many other constitutional rights, may be waived by a defendant so long as certain safeguards are observed to prevent abuse of such waivers.

Recent Example

Recently, the Maryland Court of Appeals was called upon to determine the validity of such a jury waiver in Szwed v. State. In Szwed, the defendant, James Szwed, was indicted for burglary in the first, third, and fourth degree, plus theft of property over $1,000, and malicious destruction of property. Prior to the commencement of a bench trial, Szwed’s attorney stated to the court that he had discussed the possibility of a bench trial and Szwed indicated that he wanted to be tried by the judge, not a jury.

The court explained that, at a jury trial, the finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt would have to be unanimous to convict Szwed, whereas, with a bench trial, the judge had to be certain beyond a reasonable doubt, with the difference being that it was one individual as opposed to twelve jurors rendering a verdict. Szwed affirmed that he understood these differences and elected to have a bench trial. The Court then found that Szwed had freely and voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial. Following the bench trial, the court found Szwed guilty of all counts and sentenced him to total of 15 years incarceration.

Szwed appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred in accepting his waiver of a jury trial. Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals determined that Szwed was not able to challenge the waiver on appeal because his attorney had not objected, and even if the issue was preserved for appeal purposes, that the trial judge had sufficiently complied with rules governing waivers of jury trials.

On further appeal, Maryland’s Court of Appeals explained that the trial court was obligated to follow Maryland Rule 4-246(b) in determining whether Szwed had properly waived his right to a jury trial. Maryland Rule 4-246(b) requires a trial court to engage in the process established by the rule, and state the trial court’s findings that the criminal defendant’s waiver of his right to a jury trial was made both knowingly and voluntarily. The Court of Appeals held that because the trial court had not explicitly found that Szwed’s waiver was made “knowingly,” the jury waiver was invalid. The Court of Appeals then reversed the convictions and remanded the case for a new trial.

Seek Help from a Criminal Defense Attorney

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.