“The Court of Appeals erred by finding: …(ii) that the trial court did not err by refusing to permit Petitioner to withdraw his jury waiver.”
Sanchez did not read or write English. He spoke to counsel in Spanish about a plea offer and signed a waiver in English. At a plea hearing that same day, Sanchez told the trial judge he did not understand he was waiving a jury trial. Defense counsel contradicted him and said he had explained the waiver and was “100% certain” that Sanchez understood. Counsel also related that, immediately before the hearing, Sanchez apologized to counsel and said he had changed his mind. No plea took place, but the trial court found Sanchez had knowingly waived his right to a jury trial and set the case for a bench trial.
Five days before the case went to trial, Sanchez filed a motion to withdraw his jury waiver. The State opposed it. The trial court said it would enforce the waiver based on its view that Sanchez understood the waiver when he signed it. At the close of evidence, the trial court reconsidered the matter and held that, while Sanchez requested a withdrawal sufficiently in advance of trial, he had not shown that it would not interfere with the court’s orderly administration of business, citing Sanchez’s prior dilatory request to replace appointed counsel, which had earlier delayed the case. The trial court found Sanchez guilty of continuous sexual abuse of a child and sentenced him to life in prison.
On appeal, Sanchez argued it was error to refuse his withdrawal request. The court of appeals found no abuse of discretion because Sanchez failed to meet his burden to show an absence of adverse consequences from the withdrawal. In addition to interference with orderly administration, the court of appeals cited the prosecutor’s concern that permitting a withdrawal would require meeting with the child victim and other witnesses again, that the victim was already scared of the process, and that, put off enough times, the witnesses may eventually “just don’t care anymore.”
Sanchez contends withdrawal would not have interfered with the court’s orderly administration of business. He moved to withdraw his waiver on the same day he signed it, and at that point, “[t]rial had not been scheduled, witnesses were not inconvenienced, and the State could not possibly have been prejudiced.” He argues that the trial court’s decision to reconsider his motion after the close of evidence was an implicit recognition that it had not followed the proper standard in its initial ruling.