Friday, December 20, 2013

U.S. v. Shorty (9th Cir. - Dec. 20, 2013)

Judge Reinhardt's right.

Personally, I think the defendant knew full well what she was getting into.  She (and her lawyer) wanted a bench trial, and after a brief colloquy with the trial court, she expressly waived her right to a jury trial.  So if nothing was at issue other than the ability of a person -- albeit one with an indisputably low i.q. -- to waive her right to a jury trial, I think the right result here would be to uphold the waiver.

But there's another thing at stake.  An actual rule.  Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 23.  Which expressly states that "If the defendant is entitled to a jury trial, the trial must be by jury unless: (1) the defendant waives a jury trial in writing; (2) the government consents; and (3) the court approves."

There's no doubt that the waiver here wasn't in writing.  So the first part isn't satisfied.  For a textualist, that should be the end of the story.  Period.

But precedent hasn't entirely been written by textualists.  Which -- notwithstanding the clear dictates of the rule -- permits oral waivers as long as there's a detailed colloquy with the trial court in which the defendant is told that (1) the jury's twelve people, (2) the defendant gets to help select the jury, (3) the verdict must be unanimous, and (4) at a bench trial, only the judge decides guilt.  The district court here only disclosed two of those four facts.  That, plus the fact that the defendant is learning disabled, results in reversal.

I also agree with Judge Reinhardt on the sufficiency of the evidence issue.  There's enough evidence of guilt.  So on remand, a jury gets to either convict or acquit.  At its leisure.

It's also interesting to see who gets reversed here.  The district court judge who conducted the trial and who found the defendant guilty -- the judge who does not get reversed -- is Judge Snow.  The district court judge who conducted the jury-waiver colloquy -- the judge who does get reversed -- is Judge Murguia.

Who's now on the Ninth Circuit.