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Update: U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Hear Maine Case About Giving Up Trial Rights

United States Supreme Court

A Maine case about what a defendant must be asked about giving up certain trial rights has been denied a chance to be heard by the United States Supreme Court.

A petition for certiorari is needed for the high court to even consider whether it should go to oral arguments and a final decision by the justices. That was filed in February. The petition is the first stage - asking for the Supreme Court to take the case.

That petition always faced an uphill battle to get heard. The vast majority of such requests that get sent to the court never get decided by the justices. This case becomes one of them.

The main issue was a narrow one - whether a defendant must be asked a series of questions about the rights he or she is giving up when legally relevant facts about elements of a criminal offense do not have to be proved by the government because they are agreed to, or ‘stipulated.’

The other issue is whether, without those questions being asked, these ‘stipulations‘ allowing rights to be given up can be presumed simply because it done by the defendant’s attorney.

At certain points in a criminal case, most often when a person pleads guilty, there is a requirement that a defendant is asked a series of questions about whether he or she is knowingly and voluntarily giving up their rights - such as to a jury trial, to confrontation if witnesses, to challenge the government’s case and the like. Waiving those rights has to be because a defendant freely gives them up, knowing that they have the right in the first place.

The case taken to the U.S. Supreme Court concerned a case out of York County in which Christopher Bilynky was accused of two offenses - violating a bail condition and violating a court-imposed protective order. his trial attorney stipulated to all but one element of each of the two offenses, which meant the government didn’t have to produce evidence to prove most elements because they were apparently agreed.

Mr. Bilynky was not asked by the trial court whether he knowingly waived a right to a jury trial and his right to self-incrimination on those agreed elements. He also disputes that he ever agreed to these stipulations.

The two charges related to the same conduct - because he was not allowed contact with a woman. While he was in jail he attended chapel services at which she was also attending, He is said to have spoken to her with innocuous greetings and later mouthed words to her even though he was not allowed contact with her. She also went up to him after the service was over. For that he was sentenced to a total of four years in prison.

The petition that asked the Supreme Court to hear the case wanted the justices to resolve, in both federal and state courts, whether he should have been explicitly asked that he waived his rights (trial and self-incrimination) to the stipulations and that it was knowing and voluntary. Courts are split on this issue - a classic reason for the United States Supreme Court to state, one way or the other, a position on a constitutional question by taking it up and issue a ruling.

However, that split will remain for now.


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