Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Court of Appeal Holds:
Judge Must Explain Mechanisms of Jury for Waiver to Be Valid
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An order committing a man to the Department of Mental Health for involuntary treatment as a mentally disordered sex offender was reversed yesterday by the Court of Appeal for this district because the defendant did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to a jury trial by merely affirming he was “OK” with having a judge decide the matter.
Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert of Div. Six wrote the opinion, which was not certified for publication. It reverses an order by San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Gayle L. Peron.
Gilbert skirted a finding of mootness by saying that although appellant Dakota Blancett’s “initial commitment likely has expired,…our holding here will pertain to any recommitment proceedings.”
Blancett had pled guilty in 2014 to two counts of child molestation. Last year, the Board of Parole Hearings determined that he should receive treatment as a mentally disordered sex offender as a condition of probation, and he filed a petition in the Superior Court contesting that condition.
Right before the hearing, counsel was appointed for Blancett, who proceeded to request a court trial. This dialogue took place, as quoted by Gilbert:
“The Court: All right. So, Mr. B., [counsel] says that you are okay with having a judge decide your case and not a jury?
“[Blancett]: Yes, your honor.
“The Court: That’s okay with you?
“[Blancett]: Yes, your honor.
“The Court: All right.”
“This was the only colloquy between the court and Blancett regarding advisement of his right to a jury trial and the court’s acceptance of a knowing and intelligent waiver.”
He cited the California Supreme Court’s June 19 decision in People v. Sivongxxay in which Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said, writing for the majority, that “we use this opportunity to emphasize the value of a robust oral colloquy in evincing a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of a jury trial.”
“Our review of the record indicates that Blancett did not waive his right to a jury trial with full awareness of the nature of the right being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon it….The trial court did not inform Blancett that he had a right to a jury trial, nor did the court explain the significant attributes or mechanics of a jury trial….Neither did the court inquire whether Blancett had sufficient opportunity to discuss the decision with his attorney, whether his attorney explained the differences between a bench trial and a jury trial, or whether Blancett had any questions about the waiver….In a barebones colloquy, the court asked only if Blancett was ‘okay’ with a court trial instead of a jury trial….Indeed, the court appointed counsel moments before Blancett entered his waiver and there is no record of discussion between Blancett and his attorney prior to the waiver.”
The jurist declared:
“In view of the trial court’s stark colloquy, the lack of evidence that Blancett discussed his jury trial right and waiver with counsel, Blancett’s inexperience with the criminal justice system, and Blancett’s lack of familiarity with MDO proceedings, we conclude that his waiver was not knowing and intelligent….”
The case is People v. Blancett, B277433.
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