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Published on 2/24/2022, 2:35:00 PM

Should my case be jury trial prayed?

Nearly every criminal case in Maryland courts originates at the District Court level. The District Court is the lowest Court in Maryland, and can only offer Defendants bench trials also known as Judge trials. Often cases are complex, and having a single Judge as the fact finder in your case might not be in your best interests.

You may be better served by filing a jury trial prayer, which removes the criminal case from the District Court to a Circuit Court proceeding. Additionally, your case would then be heard by a Jury, who would act as the fact finder in your case. A Jury trial prayer is 0nly applicable to cases that the District court has original jurisdiction, like misdemeanor charges, traffic citations, a few limited felonies.

The decision of whether or not to file a jury trial prayer, or "JTP" can be based upon several factors:

  1. Is your case even eligible to be jury trial prayed?
  2. Would a circuit court be the best venue for the facts in your case?
  3. Is your defense legal in nature, or factual?
  4. Is it worthwhile to try the case in District Court and appeal instead of going straight to a jury trial?
  5. Do you need additional time to prepare, and is the District Court going to postpone things further?
  6. Can you wait for a Jury trial?

A Jury Trial Prayer is a unique request in Maryland, wherein you request that your criminal case be sent straight to Circuit court before trial. The legal basis for doing so can be found in Maryland law under Md. Crim. Causes. 4-301. This has the practical effect of removing the case from Maryland District Courts' jurisdiction, and sending the case straight to a Jury Trial in Maryland Circuit Court.

What does Jury Trial Prayed Mean on Maryland Case Search?

If you're looking at a Maryland Case Search record and see "jury trial prayed" as a disposition on the page, this signifies that a Defendant demanded a jury trial in the matter, and it was transferred to Circuit Court. You can often find the corresponding Circuit Court Case number on the docket sheet displayed with the District Court case. This disposition does not explain what happened in Circuit Court, and should not be misunderstood to mean that a person was convicted of a crime.

Can I Jury trial pray my case?

Your case will be eligible for a jury trial demand based on the maximum penalties for the offenses that you are charged. If the maximum penalty for ANY offense that you are charged is more than ninety (90) days, your case can go straight to a jury trial.

How do I demand a jury trial in District Court

Any defendant can have their case jury trial prayed in advance of Court so long as their case fits Maryland law's restrictions on jury trial demands outlined above. According to Maryland law under Md. Crim. Causes. 4-301:

"A demand in the District Court for a jury trial shall be made either

(A) in writing and, unless otherwise ordered by the court or agreed by the parties, filed no later than 15 days before the scheduled trial date, or

(B) in open court on the trial date by the defendant and the defendant's counsel, if any."

What this boils down to is either, the JTP must be filed in writing 15 days before trial, or announced in open Court on the date of your trial.

What is the difference between Judge and Jury trials?

Judge trials and Jury trials are distinctly different in that Judge trials are more informal, and typically take place in a single day. In a Judge trial, a single District Court Judge decides any legal defenses a Defendant or defense attorney may assert, and also acts as the fact finder in the case. This would occur in a District court case.

In a Jury trial, twelve citizens of the County where the trial is heard act as the fact finder, but a Judge would still decide legal defenses in advance of Court. Jury trials take longer, as the jury selection process can involve questioning a large "panel" of potential jurors, and selecting them based on their answers. A jury trial tends to take much longer, usually spanning a period of several days, or even weeks for complex cases.

Is the burden of proof different in Judge vs Jury Trials?

Technically there is no difference in the burden of proof between a Judge and Jury trial. Either a Judge or Jury must find that the State of Maryland has proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Practically, most criminal defense attorneys will recognize that jurors tend to have more of an open mind with regards to what constitutes a "reasonable doubt" as unlike Judges, they have little exposure to the criminal justice system.

Having said that, there are certain cases that an experienced criminal defense attorney will recognize are better heard by Judges. Certain sexual offenses, especially those against vulnerable persons, can be better ruled upon by Judges who might not let the subject matter cloud their better judgement.

Should I pray a jury trial?

This is a complex question, which should be answered on a "case by case" basis during a free consultation with a criminal defense lawyer. District court cases are often removed by a Defendant who prays a jury trial to further continue a case. Additionally, there are considerations to think about before you pray a jury trial including:

  • Do I want to have a bench trial first?
  • Is my case set before a certain Judge who my attorney believes would give a harsh sentence?
  • Would I have a more favorable outcome in Circuit Court?
  • Would I like a different judge?
  • Do I want to give my lawyer a chance to perform cross examination of the State's witness before a jury trial?

These questions need to be answered before a jury trial demand should be considered in any alleged offense.

Are there advantages in District Court?

District Court cases do have their advantages, notably that your court date is set sooner, it is often handled by an Assistant state's attorney who has multiple cases that day, and motions can be argued during the course of a trial, instead of having to file them in writing in advance of your trial date.

What is special about a District Court Judge?

District Court Judges in Maryland serve a unique role, as there is no direct appeal of their decisions. If a person disagrees with a District Court judge's ruling, they can appeal their case to the circuit court, as long as it is done within 30 days of the decision and made in writing to the clerk of the court. All appeals from District Court trial decisions are made de novo. What this means is that any appeal re-starts the trial process, and does not depend on any rulings made by the lower court judge. Practically, this means that District Court Judges' interpretations of the law in Maryland are never directly contradicted by a higher Court. No opinions are ever written about how they may have been wrong in applying the law. This tends to breed Judges who might apply the law in their own way. In Circuit Court, an appeal is reviewed by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, and will correct a judge who incorrectly applies the law.

What happens in Circuit Court?

Once you've demanded a jury trial, you should receive a date for your next hearing in Circuit court. Depending on which jurisdiction your jury trial prayer is in, and when you make it, you may receive that Court date in Court, by mail, or by summons.

Once the matter is transferred to the new trial court, you should have an initial appearance date set.

So I've prayed a jury trial? What's next?

If you've demanded a jury trial on your trial date, the next step is to appear in Circuit Court with your attorney. You should receive an initial appearance or status date, which is the next step in the process.

What is my initial appearance, or status date?

Once a matter is transferred to Circuit Court, the Court sets an initial appearance date for you to come before the Court. Many cases are resolved on this date by plea offer; however, the purpose of this hearing is to set a potential trial date for your case. In some larger jurisdictions, there is no status date set, and instead you will get your trial date right away.

What rules apply in Circuit Court now?

This depends on how your jury trial demand was filed. If the demand was made fifteen days in advance of trial, the Circuit Court rules should apply. If the demand was made on the day of trial, technically, District Court rules should apply.

Speak with a criminal defense attorney about jury trial prayer

If you're considering a jury trial prayer in your criminal case, consult with an experienced attorney about your options under Maryland criminal law. All of our free consultations with a criminal defense attorney are protected by attorney client privileges.