Should I Pray a Jury Trial in My Maryland Criminal/Traffic Case?

Who can elect for a jury trial?
Cases that originate in District Court in Maryland–all criminal and traffic misdemeanors and certain felonies–fall into two important categories: those that must stay in District Court and those that can be “prayed up” to the Circuit Court. In Maryland, if the defendant’s criminal/traffic case has any charge on it which carries a maximum penalty of more than three months (90 days) incarceration, then the defendant has the right to demand a jury trial for the case. If the case only has charges which carry a maximum penalty of three months or less incarceration, the defendant does not have a right to a jury trial.

What does it mean to “Pray a Jury Trial”?
Since there are no jury trials held in the District Court, a “Jury Trial Prayer” (JTP) or “Jury Trial Demand” means that the defendant’s case will be moved from the District Court to the Circuit Court in Maryland for that jurisdiction. Cases in District Court are tried before a judge in a bench trial, where the judge hears the facts and renders a decision of guilty or not guilty. In Circuit Court the defendant has the option to either have a bench trial or have a jury trial, where the jury is the one who hears the facts and makes a decision regarding the guilt of the defendant.

Practical Effects of Demanding a Jury Trial

Aside from the right to have a jury trial, there are other important collateral effects of praying a jury trial. First of all, the case will move from a District Court judge to a Circuit Court judge, who is guaranteed to be different judge. Second, there may be a different prosecutor assigned to the case as it transfers from the District to the Circuit Court, depending on the jurisdiction. Third, it may effectively act as a continuance. Again, depending on the jurisdiction, the defendant may not have to go back to court in the Circuit Court for months. In Prince George’s County, for instance, a defendant who prays a jury trial in District Court will have their next court date assigned between one and three months in the future. In other counties the jury trial demand may mean the defendant has to go to Circuit Court as soon as that afternoon, the following day, or the next week.

Should I elect for a jury trial in my case?
This is ultimately a strategic decision that should be discussed between the client and his or her defense attorney, and there is no clear cut right answer without understanding the entirety of the situation. All cases are different and it may be beneficial for one client to keep their case in District Court but more beneficial for another to elect for a jury trial and move the case to Circuit Court. If a case is definitely going to be a trial, there are certain benefits and drawbacks in having a jury decide the facts. Moving a case may help a defendant avoid a certain judge or prosecutor and obtain a more favorable outcome, or it might hurt. It may be beneficial to have an effective continuance for any number of reasons, but it also could hinder a defendant’s right to appeal their case to Circuit Court if they initially lost in District Court. If you have a case in District Court and want to know whether you should elect for a jury trial the best thing to do is speak with a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the process and procedures in that jurisdiction (since they do vary), as there is no absolute right answer. Your criminal defense attorney should be able to see if your case is eligible and then explain the pros and cons of any decision and make a suggestion as to how to proceed.

To schedule an complimentary consultation about a criminal or traffic case with a Maryland criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Christopher L. Peretti at 301-875-3472. When you hire our office for your case, we assess your case completely and work with you in coming up with the best decision based on all the facts of the case and your personal situation. Call us today to start getting the help you need to defend your case and protect your record.

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