Criminal Law Blog

Appellant gets jury trial on charges that typically aren't jury eligible

 

LeJune C. Smith v. United States (decided July 7, 2016)

Players: Associate Judges Beckwith and McLeese, Senior Judge Pryor.  Opinion by Judge Pryor.  Dissent by Judge McLeese.  Sean R. Day for Mr. Smith.  Trial judge: A. Franklin Burgess, Jr.

Facts: Mr. Smith requested a jury trial on six counts stemming from a hit-and-run incident after which Mr. Smith was found to be intoxicated.  The maximum sentence Mr. Smith faced for the six charges was 2 years and 9 months, and a fine of $5,500.  The trial court denied the request and proceeded with a bench trial, at which Mr. Smith was acquitted on three counts and convicted on three counts.  On appeal, Mr. Smith argued that his statutory right to a jury trial was violated because he faced a cumulative maximum sentence of more than two years or $4000.  See D.C. Code § 16-705(b).  The government conceded that Mr. Smith’s right to a jury trial was violated, but argued that the three convictions should nonetheless be affirmed because cumulatively, they represent a maximum potential sentence of 1 year and 90 days and a fine of $2,500, and therefore would not entitle Mr. Smith to a jury trial under D.C. Code § 16-705(b).

Issue: Is remand for a jury trial a viable remedy when a defendant has been erroneously denied a jury trial, but would not independently be entitled to a jury trial on the counts being remanded?

Holding:  Yes.  Under D.C. Code § 17-306, the DCCA may “affirm, modify, vacate, set aside or reverse any order or judgment . . . lawfully brought before it for review, and may remand the cause and direct the entry of such appropriate order, judgment, or decision, or require such further proceedings to be had, as is just in the circumstances.”  Slip op. at 8-9 (citing D.C. Code § 17-306).  NG

Read full opinion here.