Maryland Court Overturns Conviction Based on Error During Voir Dire (Jury Questioning)

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.

Once the defendant was convicted of the offense, he appealed, arguing that the court erred in denying his requested police witness questions. The State asserted that the court properly exercised its discretion in declining to ask the questions because the appellant initially “explicitly waived” the asking of those questions.

The court of appeals reviewed many issues, including whether the defendant expressly waived his right to have the police witness questions presented, and whether that waiver could have been deemed “retracted” by defense counsel’s requests. Ultimately, the court concluded that defense counsel did waive the right to the requested questions. However, halfway through the court’s separate questioning of the potential jurors, defense counsel became aware that the questions may not have been posed – and reiterated the request (twice). Both requests were denied. The court found that these two attempts to retract the waiver required the court to revive counsel’s request. Therefore, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court committed reversible error by refusing to give the requested police witness questions.

This case is a good example of just one ground upon which a person convicted of a crime can attempt to reverse a criminal conviction. Anyone arrested or charged with a crime is strongly encouraged to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney from the Maryland area. Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases throughout Maryland.  Our office can work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

Related Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Reverses Criminal Conviction for Failure to Ask Requested “Voir Dire” Question

New Maryland Laws Affecting Criminal Cases Went into Effect October 1st

Maryland Court Reverses Conviction for Failure to Ask Defense-Witness Question

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