Articles Posted in Voir Dire

One of the most basic concepts underlying criminal trials in this country is the notion of fundamental fairness in the process. One element of that fundamental fairness is having your guilt or innocence determined by a jury of your peers. Toward that end, the law says that the prosecution cannot engage in racial discrimination in the jury selection process. When it comes to protecting your rights, before, during, and after your criminal trial, make sure you have a skilled Maryland criminal defense lawyer advocating for you and protecting you from this and other forms of unfairness.

One of the most essential tools in the criminal defense attorney’s “toolbag” when it comes to thwarting racial discrimination in the jury selection process is something called a “Batson challenge.” (That name comes from the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case of Batson v. Kentucky, in which a Black man was convicted by an all-white jury after the prosecutor struck all of the Black potential jurors during voir dire.)

To give you an example of what the Batson challenge process looks like, we have a recent assault and theft case from Cecil County. B.B., a Black man, was on trial for second-degree assault, conspiracy to commit robbery, conspiracy to commit second-degree assault, and conspiracy to commit theft.

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On your favorite police-and-prosecutors procedural, you may encounter an episode where one of the attorneys intones dramatically that a particular outcome in a certain case could impact thousands of cases and lead to the reversal of hundreds of convictions. Real-life is often less dramatic. Occasionally, though, a real-life case comes along where the impact does represent a major shift in the law. When that happens, it pays to have a truly knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side, giving you a powerful advocate who has a completely up-to-date awareness of all of the changes in the law and knows how best to utilize them for you.

One of those “game-changer” sorts of cases happened here in Maryland in January. That month, the state’s highest court reversed a previous decision that had stood – and had governed voir dire in Maryland criminal trials – for more than 50 years.

The new rule announced in Kazadi v. State said that when an accused person’s attorney requests, the trial court must pose voir dire questions to potential jurors about their willingness and ability to follow the court’s instructions regarding the defendant’s presumption of innocence, the state’s burden of proof and the defendant’s right to decline to testify. (The 1964 decision stated that trial judges could, in their discretion, decline to pose those questions, even if the defense asked for them.)

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Many people frequently make the mistake of thinking that the key to success in a criminal case lies within some evidence produced at trial or some argument made during the trial itself. In TV courtroom dramas, the “a-ha!” moment almost always happens at or near the end of the trial. In real life, however, it’s more complicated than that. Each phase of the process can potentially be the one that makes the difference between acquittal and conviction. The question that tips the outcome in your favor may be one asked during voir dire, long before anyone even makes an opening statement at trial. This, among many other things, is why you need to be sure you have a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney working for you from the very beginning of your case.

Not a lot of people know much about voir dire other than as a badly mispronounced phrase in the 1990s courtroom comedy film, My Cousin Vinny. In reality, voir dire is an essential process in any criminal case. When it comes to a jury, voir dire means a process where the judge and the attorneys asked potential jurors a series of questions. Voir dire is very, very important because it can go a long way toward identifying people who will be willing to look at all the evidence and render a fair verdict, and also identify people who might be predisposed toward returning a guilty verdict, even when the state hasn’t fully met its burden.

In a recent first-degree murder case, the defense was looking for those kinds of potential jurors, hoping to identify and exclude them. The defense wanted to ask several questions designed to achieve that goal, including spotting potential jurors who would be unwilling or unable to follow jury instructions related to the defendant’s presumption of innocence, the state’s burden of proof and the defendant’s right not to take the stand in his own defense. The trial judge, however, refused to allow those questions to be posed to the potential jurors.

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Chances are, there are certain U.S. Supreme Court cases with which you’re familiar, even if you don’t realize that you are. If you’ve ever viewed TV police dramas, you’ve probably heard a character give a criminal suspect various instructions like, “You have the right to remain silent…” or “You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed…” These are concepts that were at the center of two rulings from that court in the 1960s. On the other hand, you may not be familiar with the phrase “voir dire” or the important of a 1986 ruling named Batson v. Kentucky, but an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney would be. This court opinion, and its impact on the jury selection process in criminal trials, continues to play an important role today.

James Batson was an African-American man standing trial for burglary in Louisville, Ky. in 1982. The rules of jury selection give each side the option to strike several potential jurors preemptively, which means for any reason at all. The prosecutor used four of his preemptive strikes to eliminate all four of the potential jurors who were African-American. The all-white jury convicted Batson. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that conviction, ruling that allowing such a practice violated the Equal Protection Clause.

In more recent times, a man named Mark stood trial in Baltimore for several crimes related to a late-night shooting in June 2012. Mark eventually stood trial for first-degree assault and weapons charges. During the jury selection process, the prosecutor used three of their preemptory challenges to exclude African-American women under the age of 25.

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 criminal defense cases, every part of the process is a potentially key piece needed to contribute to a successful outcome. Additionally, details matter. That fact was on display when an accused convenience store robber was granted a new trial because the trial judge did not ask a voir dire question that the defense requested. The question could have potentially exposed a specific cause for the disqualification of a potential juror, so it should have been asked, according to the Court of Special Appeals ruling. The importance of every step and every detail is why it pays to have experienced Maryland criminal defense counsel on your side the entire way.

The case arose from the armed robbery of a 7-Eleven store in Baltimore County. The robber shot the store employee, but the injury wasn’t lethal. Eventually, the police arrested the defendant, and the state charged him with multiple robbery, assault, and weapons charges.

Whenever an accused person stands trial, especially in a serious felony case like the one confronting the defendant, it is extremely important to ensure that you are able to get the best jury possible. One of the ways for doing this is called voir dire. Voir dire is a French phrase that translates to “to see to speak,” and it is the part of the pre-trial process when the judge and the attorneys (or litigants) can ask questions of potential jurors. Using the voir dire process effectively can help you weed out jurors who might be particularly difficult to persuade to your side.

In a criminal case, it might be easy to assume that the outcome of the case will be a result of what takes place during the trial. The reality of criminal trials is more complicated than that. A favorable or unfavorable outcome often has a lot to do with who is on the jury, rather than just which evidence is placed before those jurors. The careful execution of questioning jurors and excluding those who might make for poor fits is a vital part of your defense. In the case of one man facing attempted murder charges, an error by a judge in not allowing the defense to ask potential jurors a particular question resulted in a reversal of his conviction by the Court of Special Appeals.

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Voir dire, the process by which prospective jurors are questioned and examined to determine whether grounds for disqualification exist, is a significant part of any jury trial. Most states, like Maryland, have rules that govern this phase of a criminal trial in order to ensure that a fair and impartial jury is ultimately impaneled in accordance with the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. When a court finds error during this segment of a criminal prosecution, any ultimate conviction may be overturned. For this reason alone, if you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is vitally important to protect your legal rights as vigorously as possible. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney could evaluate your case with an eye to preparing the best possible defense under the circumstances.

In a recent criminal case, the defendant was charged with illegal possession of a regulated firearm and later convicted after a jury trial. The defendant appealed the conviction, raising several arguments, including whether the trial court erred in refusing to ask, during voir dire, the “police witness” questions. In this case, the defendant’s counsel submitted certain voir dire questions to be asked of the prospective jurors. Included among these items were two questions relating to police officer testimony. It is important to take note that most of the evidence presented in this case against the defendant was comprised of police officer testimony.

Essentially, counsel requested that the judge ask the prospective jurors whether they would be more or less likely to believe a police officer or deputy solely because he is an officer or deputy, and whether they would be more likely to believe the testimony of a police officer or deputy as opposed to the accused. The trial court failed to ask these two questions, and at the conclusion of the questions for the whole jury pool, the judge asked defense counsel and the prosecution if they had any issues to address. Defense counsel responded “no.” Later, during additional questioning of the remaining potential jurors (prior to the selection of a panel), the defendant’s counsel requested that the police witness questions be asked. The trial court denied the request.

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In any criminal trial, the makeup of the jury is a critical component of a fair proceeding. Voir dire is the process by which trial attorneys have an opportunity to select or reject potential jurors. There are many rules associated with this process, the outcome of which can have a dramatic impact on the jury’s approach to a case. Maryland courts have described the sole purpose of voir dire as an attempt to ensure a fair and impartial jury by examining whether there is a specific cause for disqualification. The law provides some guidance in this area and should be consulted when selecting jurors for a case. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is extremely important to reach out to an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney, someone with a knowledge of the laws affecting such cases.

When the jury selection process begins, counsel for each side typically sets forth certain questions to be asked of each potential juror for the purpose of eliciting responses that would reveal grounds for disqualification. In Maryland, courts have identified two broad areas of inquiry that could expose a ground for such disqualification:  1) questions to determine whether the prospective juror meets the minimum statutory qualifications for jury service, and 2) questions aimed at revealing the potential juror’s state of mind with respect to the subject matter of the trial or any other matter likely to have undue influence over him or her.

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