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Gonzalez v. City of Homewood

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

June 9, 2017

Laura Arteaga Gonzalez
v.
City of Homewood

         Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court (CC-15-2613; CC-15-2614)

          JOINER, Judge.

         Laura Arteaga Gonzalez appeals her convictions in the Jefferson Circuit Court for violating the city's ordinances prohibiting animals to run at large and keeping a vicious animal. Gonzalez was initially convicted in the Homewood Municipal Court and then filed a notice of appeal for a jury trial de novo in the Jefferson Circuit Court. The circuit court denied her request for a jury trial and, following a bench trial on July 12, 2016, convicted Gonzalez of violating both ordinances. She received concurrent sentences of five days' hard labor in the Homewood city jail for each violation and was fined $200 plus court costs.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On July 3, 2015, Doreen Skillen and Carol Speed were walking through their neighborhood when two dogs approached them. Both women testified that the dogs jumped them and bit Skillen on the leg and the back.

         Around that time, Justin McCarty was getting out of his Stanley Steemer cleaning van in a customer's driveway, and one of the dogs approached him. According to McCarty, the larger of the two dogs "nibbled playfully" on him and scratched him with its teeth.

         Later, Sgt. John Carr and Officer Ted Springfield were called to the scene. Sgt. Carr testified that, when he arrived, he saw one of the dogs trying to bite McCarty. Sgt. Carr further testified that, when he whistled at the dog to get it away from McCarty, the dog charged at him. Feeling threatened, Sgt. Carr pulled out his gun and then shot and killed the dog. The other dog was impounded. Officer Springfield then arrested Gonzalez.

         Following her arrest, Gonzalez was convicted in the Homewood Municipal Court for allowing animals to run at large, keeping a vicious animal, and refusing to comply with a lawful order. Thereafter, Gonzalez filed timely notice of appeal for a jury trial de novo in the Jefferson Circuit Court, pursuant to Rule 30.1, Ala. R. Crim. P.

         The notice-of-appeal forms Gonzalez used to file her appeal in the Jefferson Circuit Court contained two boxes with signature lines under each box by which she could select either "Trial Without Jury" or "Defendant Demands Trial by Jury." Gonzalez initialed and dated the blanks on all three forms under the box stating "Defendant Demands a Jury Trial"; however, she checked this box only on the form relating to the refusal-to-comply-with-a-lawful-order charge. She did not do so on the forms for her remaining two charges.

         Before the trial de novo in the Jefferson Circuit Court, the City of Homewood dismissed the failure-to-comply-with-a- lawful-order charge but decided to proceed on the remaining two charges. The circuit court determined that, because the dismissed charge was the only charge as to which Gonzales had checked the box demanding a jury trial, the trial on the other two charges would proceed without a jury. The circuit court further noted that, despite the fact that she had initialed and dated the blanks next to the box for a jury demand, Gonzalez had, in effect, waived her right to demand a jury trial in these cases.

         Over Gonzalez's objection, the circuit court tried her without a jury, and she was convicted of the two remaining charges.

         Discussion

         Gonzalez argues on appeal that the circuit court committed reversible error by denying her a trial by jury on the charges of allowing animals to run at large and keeping a vicious animal. (Gonzalez's brief, p. 13.) Although she acknowledges that she neglected to check the jury-trial-demand boxes on the notice-of-appeal forms for these two charges, she points out that she initialed and dated the blanks under these boxes. (Gonzalez's brief, p. 16.) According to Gonzalez, by doing so, she was clearly indicating that she was demanding a jury trial for each charge. (Gonzalez's brief, p. 17.) We agree.

         In Alabama, it is well settled that the "right of trial by jury is fundamental in our jurisprudence, guaranteed by the Constitution ... and, if this guaranty means anything at all, it is that the defendant is entitled to trial by a jury selected and impaneled as prescribed by the law of the land." Spooney v. State, 217 Ala. 219, 221, 115 So. 308, 310-311 (1928). Rule 18.1(a), Ala. R. Crim. P., governs the procedure for ...


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