Rainwater Law Group

Effective Criminal Defense

Alvarez v Lopez, No. 12-15788 [August 30, 2016]

Alvarez v. Lopez

The Court stated the issue as “whether an Indian tribe violated a criminal defendant’s rights by failing to inform him that he could receive a jury trial only by requesting one.” Alvarez failed to pursue an appeal after his conviction, thereby raising an exhaustion issue. Because of the response to Alvarez’s habeas petition didn’t argue that this failure presented an exhaustion problem the court concluded that there is evidence of deliberate waiver by the Community and, therefore, the Court was precluded from raising non-exhaustion sua sponte. Reaching the merits the Court address his claim that he should have been informed of his right to request a jury trial. The Court concluded that “Alvarez’s interest in understanding the full contours of his rights outweigh any interests the Community might have.” Alvarez’s right to “fair treatment” includes the right to know that he would forfeit his right to a jury unless he affirmatively requested one. The Court held “that the Community denied Alvarez his right under the ICRA to be tried by a jury. Because denial of the right to a jury trial is a structural error, it requires automatic reversal.” In a separate concurrence Judge Kozinski suggest that “[p]erhaps the Community and other like it will take this opportunity to reconsider the dubious procedures they empoly in their criminal courts.”

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