Aguilera v. State Of Md., 313

Decision Date02 July 2010
Docket NumberNo. 313,2008.,313
Citation193 Md.App. 426,997 A.2d 888
PartiesAston Patrick AGUILERAv.STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Amanda M. Downs (Nancy S. Forster, Public Defender, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for appellant.

Brenda Gruss (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for appellee.

Panel: KRAUSER, C.J., GRAEFF and PAUL E. ALPERT (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

GRAEFF, J.

On January 23, 2008, appellant, Aston Patrick Aguilera, was convicted of assault in the first degree after a bench trial in the Circuit Court for Cecil County. Appellant was sentenced to 15 years, all but 10 years suspended, with five years supervised probation.

On appeal, appellant presents one question for our review: Did the trial court err in finding that appellant waived his right to a jury trial?

For the reasons set forth below, we answer that question in the negative. Accordingly, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Due to the nature of the issue presented in this case, only a brief recitation of the facts is necessary. The State presented testimony that, on July 29, 2007, the victim, Joseph Edwards, was at a party. Several uninvited people arrived, looking for a fight. The victim told them to take their fight elsewhere. Appellant struck the victim, causing him to stagger and fall to the ground. Appellant and others then “started kicking and stomping” the victim's head.1

Prior to the start of trial, the following occurred:

[THE STATE]: We are scheduled today for a jury trial. It's my understanding that the defendant has opted for a bench trial. So I guess preliminarily we'd have to have him waive his right to a jury trial on the record.
THE COURT: ... All right. Sir, as the prosecutor indicated, you were scheduled today for a trial by jury. You are here because you have been indicted by the grand jury here in Cecil County. Because of the nature of the charges returned and the possible penalties you are entitled to a trial by jury.
Obviously, if we're proceeding as the prosecutor suggests, there will be no trial by jury, but you have to affirmatively waive your right to a trial by jury. Are you waiving your the [sic] right to have a trial by jury?
[APPELLANT]: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: Have you talked about this with your attorney?
[APPELLANT]: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: Has he explained to you thoroughly how the jury trial system works?
[APPELLANT]: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: Do you have any questions at all about that?
[APPELLANT]: No, your Honor.
THE COURT: And in a bench trial I will make any decision on your guilt or innocence; whereas, with a jury trial twelve people, plus alternates-well twelve people would retire to deliberate, and they would have to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty of your guilt. All twelve must agree. Do you understand that?
[APPELLANT]: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: That will not be happening with a bench trial. Do you understand that?
[APPELLANT]: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: I am satisfied that the defendant understands what he is doing in his election for a bench trial in this case, so a jury trial has been effectively waived.
DISCUSSION

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that, [i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a” jury trial. U.S. CONST. amend. VI. The Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Boulden v. State, 414 Md. 284, 293, 995 A.2d 268 (2010).

A defendant may waive his or her right to a trial by jury and elect instead to be tried by the court. Id.; Powell v. State, 394 Md. 632, 638, 907 A.2d 242 (2006) cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1222, 127 S.Ct. 1283, 167 L.Ed.2d 103 (2007). In order for there to be a valid waiver of the right to a jury trial, however, the ‘trial judge must be satisfied that there has been an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege.’ Walker v. State, 406 Md. 369, 378, 958 A.2d 915 (2008) (quoting Owens v. State, 399 Md. 388, 418-19 n. 41, 924 A.2d 1072 (2007)).

Maryland Rule 4-246 sets forth the procedure for a waiver of the right to a jury trial. Amendments to the Rule took effect January 1, 2008, approximately three weeks before the start of appellant's trial. The Rule provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

(a) Generally. In the circuit court, a defendant having a right to trial by jury shall be tried by a jury unless the right is waived pursuant to section (b) of this Rule. The State does not have the right to elect a trial by jury.
(b) Procedure for acceptance of waiver. A defendant may waive the right to a trial by jury at any time before the commencement of trial. The court may not accept the
waiver until, after an examination of the defendant on the record in open court conducted by the court, the State's Attorney, the attorney for the defendant, or any combination thereof, the court determines and announces on the record that the waiver is made knowingly and voluntarily.

(Emphasis added).2

Appellee contends that the trial court erred in finding that he waived his right to a jury trial, asserting two grounds of error. First, he argues that, although the amended Rule requires the trial court to “announce[ ] on the record that the waiver is made knowingly and voluntarily,” the court here made “no explicit finding of voluntariness on the record.” Second, appellant argues that, in order to make an explicit finding of voluntariness, “there must be at least some inquiry into voluntariness,” which was not done here.

The State argues that the court complied with the requirements set forth in the amended Rule in finding that appellant waived his right to a jury trial. It contends that the amendment to the Rule did “not change long-settled case law holding that a court need not inquire explicitly into the voluntariness of the defendant's waiver unless there is a specific trigger for such an inquiry,” which the State contends was not present here. The State argues that the amendment to Rule 4-246(b) “changed only one thing”; it requires that the court announce on the record that the defendant's waiver of a jury trial is knowing and voluntary.” It contends, however, that the Rule does not require the court to use the exact words ‘knowing’ and ‘voluntary,’ and that the court's “finding in this case constituted a sufficient ‘announcement on the record’ under amended Rule 4-246(b).”

In interpreting Rule 4-246(b), as with any rule of procedure, we apply [t]he same fundamental principles of statutory construction.” Minh-Vu Hoang v. Hewitt Ave. Assocs., LLC, 177 Md.App. 562, 588, 936 A.2d 915 (2007). Accord Powell, 394 Md. at 640, 907 A.2d 242; State v. WBAL-TV, 187 Md.App. 135, 150-51, 975 A.2d 909 cert. denied, 410 Md. 701, 980 A.2d 482 (2009); Bijou v. Young-Battle, 185 Md.App. 268, 286-87, 969 A.2d 1034 (2009). The “cardinal rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and effectuate legislative intent.” WBAL-TV, 187 Md.App. at 151, 975 A.2d 909.

As this Court has explained, to ascertain the meaning of a rule:

First, we must examine the words of the rule, giving them ordinary and natural meaning. Where the language of the rule is clear and unambiguous, our analysis ends. However, the goal of such analysis is always to discern the legislative purpose.... To that end we must consider the context in which ... the rule appears, including related statutes or rules and relevant legislative history.

Minh-Vu Hoang, 177 Md.App. at 588, 936 A.2d 915 (citations and quotations omitted).

We attempt to give the Rule an interpretation that is reasonable, not one that is “illogical or incompatible with common sense,” New Jersey v. Strazzella, 331 Md. 270, 275, 627 A.2d 1055 (1993), or that will ‘lead to absurd consequences.’ WBAL-TV, 187 Md.App. at 150, 975 A.2d 909 (quoting Barbre v. Pope, 402 Md. 157, 172, 935 A.2d 699 (2007)). We will examine appellant's contentions pursuant to these principles of construction.

I.

Requirement that the court “announce[ ] on the record” its finding of waiver

The plain language of amended Rule 4-246(b) requires the court to “announce [ ] on the record that the waiver is made knowingly and voluntarily.” Here, in finding that appellant waived his right to a jury trial, the court stated: “I am satisfied that the defendant understands what he is doing in his election for a bench trial in this case, so a jury trial has been effectively waived.”

Appellant contends that the court's finding did not comply with the amended Rule because the court failed to make an “explicit finding of voluntariness” on the record. He argues that this error requires reversal of his convictions. We are not persuaded.

The Court of Appeals explained in Walker, 406 Md. at 377 n. 1, 958 A.2d 915, that the change in Rule 4-246, requiring the court to “announce[ ] on the record” that the waiver was knowing and voluntary, was in response to its decision in Powell, 394 Md. at 632, 907 A.2d 242.3 In Powell, the Court of Appeals held that the plain language of former Rule 4-246(b) required an examination of the defendant on the record in open court, but it did not require the trial judge to “state explicitly on the record” its determination that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived his or her right to a jury trial. Id. at 641, 907 A.2d 242. Rather, an implicit determination that the waiver was knowing and voluntary was sufficient. Id. at 643, 907 A.2d 242.

A discussion of the waiver colloquy in Powell, and the consolidated case of Zylanz v. State, is necessary to put in perspective the context in which this Rule was adopted. The waiver findings in those cases were very different from the one that occurred here.

In Powell, after defense counsel explained the right to a jury trial and Powell stated that he understood the right and wanted a court trial, the court stated: “Very well. At...

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