The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit yesterday affirmed a life sentence for Darryl Boynes Jr. in a case that raises constitutional questions about a defendant's right to a jury trial. In a 2-1 decision, the court found Boynes had knowingly waived his right to a jury trial in favor of a bench trial, which resulted in a sentence of life plus 480 months from Chief U.S. District Judge James Spencer in the Eastern District of Virginia. Boynes was convicted for crack cocaine distribution and the 2003 murder of William "Bikeman" Jenkins during a botched drug deal in Richmond, Va.
In a strongly worded dissent, 4th Circuit Judge Roger Gregory found serious questions about whether Boynes knowingly waived his right to a jury trial. The 4th Circuit "has never held that such a crucial determination of this inviolable constitutional right can be made at a post-conviction hearing," Gregory wrote. "The Supreme Court has made clear that an express and intelligent consent by the defendant must be determined prior to a bench trial."
According to Gregory's dissent: Boynes filed two letters pro se to the court asking for new counsel prior to his trial, and he requested a jury trial in open court at his arraignment. Boynes later sent two more letters to the court stating that his defense attorney was pushing him to plead guilty. Defense attorney Jeffrey Everhart filed a motion to waive Boynes' right to a jury trial, but the motion was not signed by Boynes. Judge Spencer granted the motion without holding a hearing and later denied Boynes' post-conviction motion for a jury trial.
The majority opinion didn't find any deficiencies in the actions by Spencer or Everhart. Correspondence between Everhart and Boynes that was submitted as evidence during Boynes' post-conviction motion for a jury trial explicitly mentioned the waiver. Everhart testified at the hearing that Boynes had insisted on the waiver of a jury trial because he "believed he would have a better chance because the court would better understand the self-interested motives the cooperating witnesses would have in testifying against him," the decision stated.
Everhart, an attorney with Rice, Everhart & Baber in Richmond, couldn't be reached for comment today. The majority opinion was written by U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson from the Western District of Virginia sitting by designation, who was joined by 4th Circuit Judge Robert King.
"Although we reiterate our view that it is much preferable for a district court to insure itself on the record before accepting the defendant's jury waiver, it is not a constitutional imperative," the opinion stated. "The constitutional imperative is this, no less and no more: the waiver must be knowing, intelligent, and voluntary."