Every part of your criminal trial is important. While it might be easy to focus on the trial itself, the events that occur before that, including voir dire, can also be enormously important. Even seemingly small errors can be important enough to entitle you to a new trial and a reversal of a conviction. They key is to make sure that you work with skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys who know all of the rules and how to utilize violations that can help your appeal.
An example of a voir dire in which an error took place, and that error had a major impact, was the case of a man named Prince. Prince was standing trial for first-degree murder. In 2014, police had arrested him in connection with a four-year-old murder of a tow truck driver in West Baltimore.
One of the first steps in any criminal trial is “voir dire,” which is the process of selecting a jury. During this process, both the state and the defense compose questions that they submit to the court and that the judge asks to the potential jurors. Voir dire is a very important part of the trial process because it gives you the opportunity to identify prospective jurors with pre-dispositions that might be harmful to your case. In that scenario, you can use a “strike,” which is a request to the court to remove that potential juror from the prospective jury pool.
In Prince’s case, during voir dire, one of the prospective jurors asked the courtroom clerk, during lunch recess, if she could ask the judge a question in private. The clerk spoke to the judge, and the judge said “no.” The potential juror who wanted to ask the question was never seated on the jury. The jurors who were seated eventually convicted Prince of first-degree murder. At no point during the trial did the judge notify Prince or his lawyer about the prospective juror’s request to ask the question or the judge’s response.
The issue with the prospective juror might seem, to the untrained eye, like an insignificant or even trivial detail that was of no value to Prince. After all, the judge didn’t speak to the prospective juror, and the prospective juror was not a member of the actual jury that ultimately convicted Prince. This, however, was not true.
Not only was the failure to notify Prince and his counsel an error, but also it was an extremely important one. The Maryland Court of Appeals is very clear that a criminal defendant has a right to be present at all stages of his trial, including all voir dire proceedings. The list of things covered by this right encompasses, among other things, “bench conferences … concerning the impaneling of a jury and the possible disqualification of jurors.” The trial court in Prince’s case, by not informing him and his attorney, ensured that there was no record of the request, the response, and, perhaps most importantly, any discovery of what the prospective juror wanted to discuss in her question for the judge.
In some situations, an error by a judge may lead to corrective action short of a reversal. However, as the appeals court pointed out in its opinion, this error happened during voir dire, which is a critical point in any criminal trial. As a result, the only correct remedy was a reversal of Prince’s conviction and a new trial.
When it comes to your criminal case, it is important to have an attorney who knows how to protect your rights. Skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been defending the accused in Maryland for many years, providing a strong defense at every step in the process. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Unasked Voir Dire Question Allows a Baltimore Man to Obtain a Reversal and a New Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Nov. 8, 2017
Maryland Court Overturns Conviction Based on Error During Voir Dire (Jury Questioning), Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Dec. 4, 2015