Appellate Court Reversed Conviction Due to Invalid Waiver

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed a defendant’s criminal convictions, finding that his purported waiver of his right to a jury trial was not validly made.

Case Background

In this case, the defendant was arrested and charged with sexual assault in the fourth degree, public indecency, and disorderly conduct. He never expressed his wish, either orally or in writing, to waive his right to a jury trial. However, at a status conference, defense counsel stated the defendant would be electing for a bench trial. The case was placed on the trial docket, and at the next court appearance, both the defense counsel and prosecutor assured the judge that the defendant was adequately canvassed with respect to waiver.

Thereafter, the court found the defendant guilty on all charges. He appealed his convictions, claiming that “the purported waiver of his right to a jury trial was invalid because the record does not reflect that he ever personally affirmed, either in writing or orally, his desire to waive this right.”

Waiver of a Constitutional Protection

In order to constitute a valid waiver of a constitutional protection, a defendant must make it knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The Supreme Court of Connecticut previously ruled that a defendant – and only the defendant – may waive his “fundamental right to a jury trial.” Even as a matter of trial strategy, defense counsel cannot make this decision. More importantly, the defendant must make an “affirmative indication” of his wish: “passive silence… while defense counsel purport[s] to waive the defendant’s right to a jury trial” provides an insufficient showing of a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver.

The Appellate Court in this case determined that the record wholly lacked any indication that the defendant himself waived his right to a jury trial, and defense counsel’s actions simply were not sufficient to meet the strict standard imposed. Because the defendant did not personally waive his right, his convictions were reversed and a new trial was ordered.

When faced with a charge of sexual assault or any other criminal offense, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.