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

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.

In a recent Maryland criminal case, the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and use of a handgun during the commission of a felony or crime of violence. Prior to the trial, however, both parties submitted voir dire questions that they wanted the court to ask the prospective jurors. Both parties wanted the court to ask a variation of a question pertaining to whether any member of the jury (or a family or close friend) had ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a crime. The trial court refused to ask the question. The defendant was convicted of the charges indicated above. He appealed, arguing (among other things) that the court erred in failing to “propound” his requested voir dire question.

The court of appeals agreed, reversed the conviction, and remanded the case for a new trial. The court pointed out that Maryland law makes it clear that if a question is directed to a specific cause for disqualification, that question must be asked. A failure to do so is considered an abuse of discretion. Here, the court concluded that the question requested by the parties was directed at a specific cause for disqualification, and the trial court’s refusal to ask whether any of the prospective jurors had been charged with or had been convicted of a serious offense was reversible error.

As this case illustrates, it is vitally important to know and understand every local rule and law applicable to criminal cases in Maryland. Here, since the court failed to follow the law with respect to jury selection, the criminal conviction was reversed. Depending on the nature of a criminal case and the myriad circumstances surrounding the proceeding, there are many defense strategies that may be employed. Reaching out to an experienced criminal defense attorney is one of the best ways to assess your case. 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 Conviction for Failure to Ask Defense-Witness Question

Maryland Court’s Refusal to Give Requested Jury Instruction Upheld

Maryland Court Reviews Another Case Concerning the Waiver of a Jury Trial

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