COA: State can’t demand jury trials in misdemeanor cases

February 6, 2018

When prosecuting misdemeanor cases, the state does not have the right to demand a trial by jury, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in a Tuesday opinion upholding the denial of the state’s request for a jury trial in a misdemeanor case.

In State of Indiana v. Latasha Bonds, 49A02-1704-CR-770, Latasha Bonds was charged with Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license and possession of marijuana and requested the case be set for a bench trial. The Marion Superior Court agreed, but the state filed a written demand for a jury trial.

The court rejected that demand, prompting the instant appeal in which the state argued the trial court erred by finding it did not have the right to demand a jury trial. But the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision on Tuesday, with Judge Cale Bradford writing that only the accused has the right to a demand a trial by jury, and the state cannot exercise the same right over the accused’s objections.

Bradford pointed specifically to Indiana Rule of Criminal Procedure 22, which holds that a defendant charged with a misdemeanor must file a written request for a jury trial at least 10 days before the first scheduled trial date.

“Criminal Rule 22, however, makes no mention of any procedure by which the State may request to have the case be tried before a jury,” he wrote. “If the Indiana Supreme Court had intended for the right to trial by jury to be extended to the State, it easily could have indicated that the procedures set forth in Criminal Rule 22 applied in equal force to both the accused and the State.”  

The state further argued that under Indiana Code section 35-37-1-2, its consent was necessary to allow Bonds’ case to proceed to a bench trial. That statute previously held that “(t)he defendant and prosecuting attorney … may submit the trial to the court,” but was amended in 2015 to add, “Unless a defendant waives the right to a jury trial under the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure, all other trials must be by jury.”

That amended was meant to clarify the process for waiving a jury trial in a misdemeanor case, while the unchanged language related to an agreement between the defendant and prosecutor applies only to felony cases, Bradford wrote.

“Stated differently, the addition of the reference to Criminal Rule 22, which again controls in cases involving only misdemeanor charges, would arguably have no bearing on the first sentence, which has long been applied to cases involving felony charges,” he said. “…We further concluded that because the instant matter involves only a misdemeanor charge, Criminal Rule 22, which does not require the State’s consent to a defendant’s waiver of her right to a jury trial, controls.”

The case was remanded for further proceedings.


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