Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 10/21/2021
E.g., 10/21/2021

The defendant was convicted in a bench trial of speeding 94 miles per hour in a 65 mile-per-hour zone. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals determined that even though the trial court failed to follow the procedure set forth in N.C.G.S. § 15A-1201 for waiver of defendant’s right to a jury trial, the defendant was not prejudiced by the trial court’s noncompliance. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in conducting a bench trial because he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to a jury trial.

Counsel for the defendant requested a bench trial in superior court, and the State consented to the request. The trial court granted the request and began the trial without first addressing the defendant and determining whether he fully understood and appreciated the consequences of the jury trial waiver as required by G.S. 15A-1201(d). After the State rested, the trial court asked the defendant if he consented to the waiver of jury trial. In that exchange, the defendant said he consented to the waiver. 

The Supreme Court determined that that the trial court’s failure to conduct the inquiry required by G.S. 15A-1201(d) was a statutory rather than a constitutional violation and that the defendant was required to show prejudice resulting from the violation to be entitled to relief. The Court stated that the pretrial exchange between the trial court, defense counsel, and the State, coupled with defendant’s subsequent answers to questions posed by the trial court demonstrated that he understood he was waiving his right to a trial by jury and the consequences of that decision. In addition, the Court stated there was overwhelming evidence of defendant’s guilt.

Justice Ervin, joined by Justices Hudson and Earls, dissented. Justice Ervin wrote that he would hold that the defendant did not properly waive his right to trial by jury, that the absence of a proper waiver resulted in a deprivation of his right to trial by jury, that the failure to obtain a proper waiver of defendant’s right to a jury trial constituted error per se, and that defendant was therefore entitled to a new trial.

At the start of his trial on drug charges, the defendant, through counsel, requested to waive his right to trial by jury in favor of a bench trial. The trial judge advised the defendant of the charges and the maximum punishment and asked several questions about the defendant’s request for a bench trial.  Specifically, the trial judge asked the defendant whether he wished to waive a jury trial and have a bench trial, whether he understood the difference between a jury trial and bench trial, and whether he had discussed his rights and the ramifications of the waiver with his attorney. The court then granted the defendant’s motion for a bench trial.  The court and the defendant signed AOC-CR-405, the Waiver of Jury trial form.

The defendant then was arraigned, tried, and convicted. He appealed, arguing that the trial court violated G.S. 15A-1201, which sets out the procedure for waiver of a jury trial, in granting his request for a bench trial. Specifically, the defendant argued that the trial court (1) failed to require the defendant to comply with the notice provisions in G.S. 15A-1201(c); (2) failed to solicit information required to determine that the waiver was knowing and voluntary; and (3) failed to afford the defendant 10 business days in which to revoke the waiver.

(1) The court determined that the defendant’s failure to request a separate arraignment before trial invited noncompliance with G.S. 15A-1201(c). Given that, the waiver of jury trial on the date of arraignment and trial, pursuant to notice provided on that date, with the consent of the trial court and the State was proper.

(2) The court held that the colloquy between the trial court and the defendant, which mirrored the acknowledgements on the Waiver of Jury Trial form, established that the defendant fully understood and appreciated the consequences of the decision to waive the right to trial by jury, thus satisfying the requirements of G.S. 15A-1201(d)(1).

(3) G.S. 15A-1201(e) provides that once waiver of jury trial has been made and consented to by the trial judge, the defendant may revoke the waiver one time within 10 business days of the notice. The court held that this provision does not mandate a ten-day cooling off period for a waiver made on the eve of trial. Instead, it provides a period during which a waiver made in advance of trial may be revoked.

(4) The court held that even if it presumed that the trial court erred in granting the waiver, the defendant could not show that he was prejudiced by the violation.

Because the constitutional amendment permitting waiver of a jury trial only applies to defendants arraigned on or after 1 December 2014, a bench trial was improperly allowed in this case where the defendant was arraigned in February 2014. The session law authorizing the ballot measure regarding waiver of a jury trial provided that if the constitutional amendment is approved by the voters it becomes effective 1 December 2014 and applies to criminal cases arraigned in Superior Court on or after that date. After the ballot measure was approved, the constitutional amendment was codified at G.S. 15A-1201(b). That statute was subsequently amended to provide procedures for a defendant’s waiver of the right to a jury trial, by a statute that became effective on 1 October 2015. The court rejected the State’s argument that because of the subsequent statutory amendment, the constitutional amendment allowing for waiver of a jury trial applies to any defendant seeking to waive his right to a jury trial after 1 October 2015. The amendment to the statute does not change the effective date of the constitutional amendment itself. The court concluded: “Accordingly, a trial court may consent to a criminal defendant’s waiver of his right to a jury trial only if the defendant was arraigned on or after 1 December 2014.” The parties may not stipulate around this requirement. Here, because the defendant was arraigned in February 2014, he could not waive his right to a trial by jury. The court found that automatic reversal was required.

In this child sexual assault case, the court upheld the defendant’s conviction, obtained after a bench trial. (1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court lacked authority to try him without a jury. The defendant asserted that the statute allowing a jury trial waiver applies only to cases arraigned on or after December 1, 2014. The defendant argued that the statute did not apply to him because he was never formally arraigned and thus should not have been allowed to waive his jury trial right. The court noted in part that arraignment is not mandatory, and will be held only if a defendant files a written request for arraignment. Here, the defendant never made such a request. Additionally, the March 2, 2015 hearing on the defendant’s motion to waive a jury trial--a hearing date after the statute’s effective date--“essentially served the purpose of an arraignment.” (2) The defendant’s waiver of his jury trial right was knowing and voluntary where the court engaged in a full colloquy with the defendant.

(1) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court lacked authority to allow him to waive his right to a trial by jury because he was not arraigned before the effective date of the constitutional amendment and statute allowing such a waiver. The new provision on jury trial waivers became effective December 1, 2014 and applies to criminal cases arraigned in Superior Court on or after that date. The defendant never requested a formal arraignment pursuant to G.S. 15A-941; his arraignment occurred on the first day of trial, May 11, 2015. Because the defendant’s arraignment occurred after the effective date of the constitutional amendment and accompanying session law, the trial court was constitutionally authorized to accept the defendant’s waiver of jury trial. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that because the trial judge had ruled in favor of the defendant’s pretrial motion in limine, excluding an involuntary confession, he was unable to serve as a fair and impartial factfinder and that the non-jury trial was “tainted” by the trial judge’s knowledge of the inadmissible statements. Because the defendant chose to waive his right to a trial by jury and proceed with a bench trial, he could not argue on appeal that he was prejudiced as a result of his own strategic decision. Furthermore, the trial court is presumed to disregard incompetent evidence in making decisions as a finder of fact.

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