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 this case, the defense attorney wanted to ask the potential jurors if they would be more inclined to believe the testimony of a police officer than other witnesses simply because of the officer’s status as a member of law enforcement. The prosecution proposed a similar question. The judge used neither proposal, instead asking the potential jurors if they would be inclined to believe or disbelieve a witness solely because of his or her status as “a physician, a clergyman, a police officer, a fire fighter, a psychiatrist, [or] a social worker.”
Three police officers testified at the trial, and, at the conclusion, the jury found him guilty of multiple counts and sentenced him to 100 years with all but 55 years suspended.
On appeal, the defendant again raised the matter of the voir dire question about credibility and police officers. The appeals court sided with the accused and ordered a new trial. There are certain voir dire questions that the law says a judge must ask the potential jurors, and some that the judge may decline to ask in accordance with his discretion. If a question seeks information that would be “reasonably likely to uncover specific cause for disqualification,” it is a question that must be posed to the potential jurors.
Maryland law says that a potential juror’s bias (for or against) the credibility of a police officer based solely upon the officer’s law enforcement status is one example of a specific cause for juror disqualification. In any case in which officers are expected to testify, the police officer bias question must be asked of the potential jurors. The judge’s broader question that encompassed many professions was not sufficiently specific for this case. The witnesses included three police officers, no clergy, no fire fighters, no psychiatrists, no physicians, and no social workers. Given those facts, the bias question the potential jurors received was not “appropriately tailored” for the defendant’s case, and that entitled him to a new trial.
Every step of the process matters in your criminal trial from pre-trial to post-judgment. Skilled Maryland assault defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been defending the accused in Maryland for many years, providing a zealous and reliable defense at every step along the way. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
An Improper Refusal of a Voir Dire Question and How That Helped a Maryland Man Get His Assault Conviction Vacated, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 22, 2017
Maryland Court Overturns Conviction Based on Error During Voir Dire (Jury Questioning), Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Dec. 4, 2015