State v. Rutledge, ___ N.C. App. ___, 832 S.E.2d 745 (Aug. 20, 2019)

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.