The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently issued an opinion in favor of Spolin Law P.C.’s client who was wrongfully denied a jury trial.
In this 2016 case, the client waived his right to a trial by jury in anticipation of a negotiated plea agreement. That plea bargain was never completed, so the client attempted to withdraw the jury waiver multiple times. Instead, the trial court gave him a bench trial and he was found guilty and sentenced. The client contacted Spolin Law P.C. for help.
Spolin Law made arguments based in Constitutional and Texas law that the withdrawal requests of the client were valid, and he should have been given a jury trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas agreed with Spolin Law. As a result, the trial court decision has been reversed.
Background of the Case
The client was originally represented by appointed counsel who did not speak his first language, Spanish. That attorney negotiated a plea bargain with the prosecution. However, the attorney then filed a motion to withdraw from representing him and new counsel who did speak Spanish was appointed. Before the end of her representation, the client’s original counsel indicated that the client did not want the plea bargain and wanted to go to trial. A jury trial was set for July 10, 2017.
The next time the client appeared in court was June 29, 2017, with his new, Spanish-speaking counsel, for a hearing on a negotiated guilty plea. The client immediately expressed hesitation about waiving a jury. The court questioned him, and the defendant said, “…I didn’t know I would lose my right to—to have a jury.” He said his original, non-Spanish speaking, counsel didn’t tell him he would be giving up his right to a jury trial.
The trial court informed the client of the plea bargain being offered, and the client asked for a few days to consider his options. The State said the offer would expire at 5 p.m. that day. During the June 29th plea hearing, the prosecutor asked if they proceeded to trial, if it would be a bench trial or a jury trial. The court confirmed it would be before the court because of the waiver.
The client declined the State’s plea offer, and the case did not proceed to a jury trial as it was originally scheduled for July 10, 2017. Instead, it was rescheduled for a bench trial on August 7, 2017. In the meantime, the prosecution amended the indictment. Then, before the bench trial, the client asked to restore his case to the jury trial docket. The trial court did not rule on the motion prior to the bench trial. At the beginning of the bench trial on August 7, 2017, the client again requested the withdrawal of his waiver of a jury trial. The court denied and the bench trial commenced. Ultimately the trial court found the client guilty and assessed punishment.
Arguments Spolin Law Used to Appeal the Case
Upon appeal, Spolin Law argued the following points for the client:
- He did not validly waive his right to a jury trial in the first place.
- The trial court abused its discretion by failing to permit him to withdraw the waiver of his right to a jury trial.
These arguments are based on the facts of the case and required legal arguments established in Constitutional law and prior case decisions in Texas.
A defendant has an “absolute” right to a jury trial; however, it may be waived. According to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, a waiver must “be made in person by the defendant in writing in open court with the consent and approval of the court, and the attorney representing the state.” The Texas Appellate Court found that although the client had signed a document waiving his right to a jury trial, that waiver was not made in open court. Thus, the jury-trial waiver was not valid, and the trial court abused its discretion by failing to allow the client to withdraw his jury-trial waiver.
The Appellate Court further found that the defendant “certainly made his ambivalence about waiving a jury trial clear to the trial court at the very outset.” He made multiple requests for a jury trial on multiple occasions.
Outcome of the Case
On September 22, 2021, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the lower court’s judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial consistent with the opinion. Spolin Law’s client will get his day in court before a jury of his peers.
Speak to a Texas Criminal Appeals Lawyer at Spolin Law P.C.
Spolin Law P.C. founder Aaron Spolin is a former prosecutor and a top-ranked criminal law attorney. He is an award-winning Texas criminal appeals attorney who is dedicated to fighting for the rights of his clients.
To speak with the legal team at Spolin Law P.C. about how the outcome of this case might affect your own case or any other criminal law matter, please call us at (866)-617-9620. The firm handles state and federal post-conviction matters.