In criminal prosecutions, the defendant may decide whether he or she would like to waive the right to a jury trial. Should the defendant choose to waive this right, the defendant will have what is called a bench trial that is conducted by a judge alone. Sometimes, the court may find a defendant incompetent to waive his or her right to a jury trial. In these cases, the defendant cannot waive his or her right to a jury trial or any other fundamental right.
A knowing jury waiver requires an appreciation of the nature of the jury trial right and the consequences forgoing that right. To be considered competent, the defendant is only required to show the capacity to comprehend the nature of the criminal proceedings.
Who Has the Power to Waive a Jury Trial?
In People v. Ford, the defendant pled not guilty by reason of insanity to attempted kidnapping. Following this plea, the defendant was committed to a state medical facility, and the prosecuting attorney filed a petition with the superior court seeking to extend the defendant’s commitment to the facility by two years. After the prosecutor filed the extension petition, the court was to personally advise the defendant, both in court and on the record, of the right to a jury trial. The trial was to be by jury unless waived by both the defendant and the prosecuting attorney. Citing People v. Tran, the court recognized that the defendant’s counsel would only control the waiver decision if substantial evidence suggests the defendant is incompetent to decide whether to waive a jury.
The appellate court in People v. Ford recognized a substantial violation in the defendant’s constitutional due process rights because he was not present at the hearing at which the trial court found him incompetent to decide if he wanted a jury trial. The Attorney General argued the error was harmless because an expert psychiatrist provided an opinion in the form of a letter that Mr. Ford lacked the capacity to make a knowing waiver. However, the appellate court found the error to be significant because the defendant was unable to meaningfully interact with the court on the topic of his right to a jury trial. Furthermore, his subsequent testimony at trial suggested that had he been present at the hearing, he may have been able to show his competence to waive a jury trial. The court ultimately remanded the matter for the trial court to conduct a hearing in Mr. Ford’s presence to determine his current competence to waive his right to a jury trial.
Contact Wallin & Klarich’s Experienced Attorneys Before Your Trial
Here at Wallin & Klarich, our criminal defense attorneys can answer your questions regarding your rights to a trial by jury. Our attorneys are trained in assessing a situation to ensure that your constitutional rights are protected. If you have been accused of a crime, Wallin & Klarich can provide you with the legal representation you need.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Torrance, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you can find an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available near you no matter where you are located.
Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (714) 587-4279 for a free, no-obligation phone consultation. We will be there when you call.