Updated on June 2, 2020
Understanding Jury Trial Waivers
State v. Harris, No. 117,362 (Kan., Apr. 17, 2020).
Issue: Is telling both your attorney, who has informed you of your rights, and the district court, which asks for a choice between a “bench trial and the case decided by a judge,” enough to constitute a knowing and voluntarily waiver of your Sixth Amendment right to trial by a jury?
Answer: No. The defendant could not have knowingly waived his right to a jury trial because he was not informed of his rights by the district court.
Facts: A defendant was informed multiple times by his attorney of his right to a jury trial. The district court asked the defendant if he would like a trial by jury. The defendant consistently responded that he “wanted the judge, not the Court, to decide his case.” However, his waiver was ineffective, even though the defendant had previously represented himself pro se in a bench trial and had personal experience in past criminal proceedings.
Discussion: This case enhances the strength of State v. Irving which requires the district court to independently advise a defendant of his right to a trial by jury. Here the court imposes strict requirements on the district court to not merely provide a choice between a bench trial and a jury trial, but to inform the defendant that the jury trial is the default right. For the district court to allow a waiver of this right, it must engage in a “thoughtful exchange” between the defendant and the district court. This decision differed from the Kansas Court of Appeals, which applied a totality of the circumstances approach to determine factually that the defendant knew of his right.
U.S. Const. amend. XI.
State v. Irving, 533 P.2d 1225 (Kan. 1975) (establishing the procedural duty of the court to inform the defendant of his right).
State v. Beaman, 286 P.3d 876 (Kan. 2012) (establishing the appropriate standard of review).