Question on Alabama criminal trials

So, as some NFL fans might know, a player on the Raiders, Rolando McClain, was arrested and charged with various misdemeanors in his home state of Alabama. He was found guilty and sentenced to 180 days jail. As expected, he filed an appeal, but it doesn’t sound like a typical criminal appeal to me…

So his conviction was made by a judge as part of a bench trial? Why not have a jury trial instead, as it typically the defendant’s choice? If they had a bench trial, why can they appeal it in form of a jury trial? I’m only aware of the system where the trial court level is either a bench or jury trial (choice of defendant), and the appeal is a non-trial one. Does Alabama have some funky laws, or am I just missing something here?

In some jurisdictions, for relatively minor offenses, you get a quick and dirty fact finding without all the trappings of Due Process. I assume it resolves most of the cases. The others get to start over with a full blown “trial” in the more conventional sense. I don’t know about Alabama. Years ago in Seattle Municipal Court, your “appeal” if convicted was a trial* de novo *in Superior Court. Thus, the first trial spared the expense of court reporters, jurors (IIRC) and appointed counsel.

Sounds like a new trial De Novo, not technically an appeal. Some states I guess, if the penalty is less than 6 months (180 days) upon conviction, a bench trial is mandated fiirst. That I have seen somewhere, can not remember the state or states now, could have been AL.

And frequently a bench trial is the trial of choice - jurors are now suffering unrealistic expectations about forensic evidence. When I was being voir dire’d last week I got about 10 minutes of questioning from both lawyers about if I watched crime scene tv programs and what I thought about forensics. [the case was about a sexual assault case. I would assume that they were checking to see if I thought they would be able to have the whole 5 minute DNA test with 14 points of matching or something. i told them I would assume they didn’t have Abby Sciuto working back in the lab somewhere:p]

In some states, charges with potential sentences of less than 1 year can be decided just by a judge, without a jury.

Journalists have done a very poor job explaining the McClain case. His conviction by a municipal court judge is, as his lawyer stated, essentially meaningless.

McClain was charged with four misdemeanors, which in Alabama are tried initially in municipal court if committed in a city that has such a court. The Code of Alabama, Section 12-14-6, provides that “All cases in municipal courts shall be tried by a judge without a jury.” Alabama recognizes that a criminal defendant is entitled to a jury trial, but to obtain a jury trial the defendant must first go through a municipal court proceeding and then “appeal.” Under Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 18.1, a defendant is guaranteed a right to jury trial, but if a matter is first tried in the municipal or district court, “the defendant shall have the right to trial by jury only on demand upon appeal to the circuit court for trial de novo as provided in Rule 30.1.”

McClain has the right, under Rule 30.1, to appeal to circuit court, where he will have a trial de novo. A “trial de novo” is a new trial in a different court and proceeds as if there had been no prior findings.

Upon filing his appeal, the municipal court’s finding of guilt goes “poof” and as a legal matter no longer exists. McClain is presumed innocent and the prosecution must prove its case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. This “appeal” is considerably different than appeals in most jurisdictions, where the issues are confined to whether the trial court made a mistake.