United States v. Shorty

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 12-20-2013
  • Case #: 11-10530
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Circuit Judges Noonan and Watford
  • Full Text Opinion

Where the waiver to a jury trial is unwritten and there is evidence the defendant has a diminished mental capacity, a court must engage in an in-depth colloquy to ensure the defendant understands the importance and effect of his waiver of a jury trial.

Mala Travon Shorty was convicted, after a bench trial, of multiple felonies. Shorty’s convictions related to his illicit acquisition of firearms through the use of a purported buyer. Four months before the trial, Shorty orally waived his right to a jury trial in a moderately detailed colloquy. Shorty appealed his conviction on the grounds that his jury trial waiver was inadequate and that four of his convictions were based on insufficient evidence. The Ninth Circuit reviewed the district judge’s questioning of Shorty’s jury trial waiver. The panel found that the district judge was made aware that Shorty may have suffered from mental deficiencies. The panel noted Shorty’s waiver was not written, and therefore, subject to heightened scrutiny. The panel found that Shorty was advised of only two out of the four “crucial facts” the panel had previously set forth to ensure a defendant has knowingly and intelligently waived a jury trial. These facts include: a jury is composed of twelve members of the community; jury verdicts must be unanimous; defendants may take part in jury selection; and the court alone decides a defendant’s guilt or innocence. The panel held that Shorty’s waiver failed to fulfill the court’s “serious and weighty responsibility” to ensure a waiver is knowing and intelligent because of Shorty’s represented mental inadequacies, the court’s acceptance of an unwritten jury-trial waiver, and the court’s inadequate colloquy. The panel indicated that if Shorty were “intellectually sophisticated and highly educated” his colloquy may have been sufficient. The panel rejected Shorty’s insufficient evidence appeal. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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