Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Jury Trial Waiver Without Court Examination OK'd

US v. Boynes: Boynes was charged with drug and firearm offenses arising from "a cocaine deal that degenerated into a murder." Prior to trial, Boynes requested new counsel, alleging that the relationship with his initially appointed counsel had become "adversarial." New counsel was appointed. Eventually, Boynes also requested that his new counsel be replaced, due to the "adversarial" nature of their relationship. That request was denied and trial preparations went forward. Prior to trial, counsel met with Boynes, who requested that he be tried by a judge, rather than a jury. Counsel filed the motion, the Government agreed, and the district court accepted the waiver. No hearing was held on the motion to waive a jury trial.

At trial, Boynes was convicted on all counts. Before sentencing, Boynes filed a bar complaint against counsel, resulting in the appointment of a third attorney. That attorney then filed a motion for a new trial arguing, for the first time, that Boynes's waiver of a jury trial was not knowing and voluntary. After a hearing, which included testimony from counsel #2 but not Boynes, the district court denied the motion. Boynes was sentenced to life in prison, plus 480 months.

On appeal, Boynes argued that his jury trial waiver was not knowing and voluntary. Specifically, he argued that the district court should have undertaken some on the record inquiry into Boynes's wishes, particularly given the strained relationship he had with counsel. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, 2-1, and upheld the conviction. The court held that, although it is better practice to make such inquiries, it is not required by either the Rules of Criminal Procedure or the Sixth Amendment. Dissenting, Judge Gregory argued that the determination of whether a waiver of a jury trial is knowing and voluntary cannot be made post-trial and therefore must be resolved before a bench trial goes forward.

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