New Jersey criminal attorneys report that the state courts will be making changes to criminal defendants’ waivers. All criminal defendants can waive their right to a trial by jury, which is automatically granted to them as a civil right. However, in January, a state appeals court ruled that judges and attorneys need to modify the language and procedure of processing these waiver requests to ensure that criminal defendants are fully aware of the implications.
This decision means that John Blann will receive a new trial by jury. Blann, an Atlantic City resident, was convicted of robbery at a bench trial after waiving his rights to a trial by jury. After Blann advised his lawyer that he wanted a bench trial, Superior Court Judge Michael Donio asked Blann twice if he wished to waive his right to a jury trial. Blann agreed both times. Blann was convicted of two counts of first-degree robbery and one count of second-degree robbery.
Judges in the Appellate Division court noted that Blann never signed a jury waiver form, which is a requirement detailed in Rule 1:8-1(a). New Jersey criminal attorneys were hard-pressed to prove that the man waived his rights with a full understanding of the consequences of requesting a bench trial. The appellate judges concluded that Blann’s verbal waiver did not indicate that he and his attorney had an extensive conversation about his decision. In order to uphold a refusal request, judges must know that the criminal defendant is fully informed.
Although Appellate Division Judge Joseph Lisa argued that the form was not an absolute requirement, pointing to a key case where only the criminal defendant’s verbal request was used to enact a bench trial, other members of the appeals court pushed for a more precise process. The Appellate Division’s new ruling states that an official waiver should be signed at all times to ensure that the criminal defendant understands the full extent of his decision, and to prove that the defendant arrived at his decision of his own volition.
When these changes are in effect, it will be easier for attorneys to prove that criminal defendants waived their right to a jury trial with full knowledge of the consequences. The New Jersey criminal attorneys at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, PA offer expert legal advice and strategy for criminal defendants in all stages of the criminal defense process.