Contact Us 301-705-5137

Can the Judge Ask Questions at My La Plata, MD Criminal Trial?

The question of whether a Maryland criminal court judge CAN ask questions of witnesses at a criminal trial is a bit complicated. Generally, here in Maryland, the judge at a criminal trial DOES NOT ask questions of the witnesses at a criminal trial. However, Maryland criminal law does not PRECLUDE a criminal court judge from asking questions of witnesses. Finally, whether the judge asking questions is grounds for reversing a criminal court conviction and getting a new trial depends on the questions asked. Here is a more detailed explanation from experienced and courtroom-proven Maryland criminal defense lawyers from the Law Office of Robert Castro. Call us at (301) 705-5137 if you have been arrested or charged. We are available around the clock, 24/7.

In Maryland, those arrested and accused of crimes have a right to an IMPARTIAL judge. Under Maryland Rule 18-102.5(a), this is more generally stated as the requirement that judges “act without favoritism.” If a Maryland criminal court judge violates this rule, then the criminal defendant’s due process rights are violated. Broadly, this rule is the reason that Maryland criminal court judges do not generally ask questions during a criminal trial. That is, the judges do not want to appear to “act with favoritism.” On a practical level, judges tend to NOT ask questions of witnesses because it “opens the door” to being accused of favoritism. If the judge’s questions amounted to favoritism, then, on appeal, the conviction can be overturned, and the criminal defendant will get a new trial.

However, as noted, judges CAN ask questions. In fact, it is legally settled in Maryland that a judge has the right to ask questions during a criminal trial as long as the judge maintains his or her impartiality and avoids favoritism. When judges do ask questions of witnesses, the legal question of favoritism will hinge on the nature of the questions. Typically, an analysis looks at the following:

  • Did the judge APPEAR to the jury to be favoring the prosecution or the criminal defense team?
  • Did the judge help the prosecution prove an element of the crime?
  • Was the question in the manner of a clarification?

The recent case of Middleton v. State (MD Appellate Court 2023) provides an example. In that case, the Maryland criminal court judge asked a few questions of the lead Detective in the case. In particular, the court asked the Detective to identify the report number on the inventory sheet that he filed (which involved bags of heroin) to explain that the report number is listed as the “Agency Case Number” on the report prepared by the chemist’s analyses (showing that heroin was in the bags), having the Detective state for the jury where the report number appeared on the two reports, and asking if the report number appeared in any additional locations on the reports resulting in Detective pointing out two additional locations of the number.

The criminal defense team objected and argued that the judge had exhibited favoritism by asking these questions. They argued that the judge was helping the prosecution prove the elements of the case. The judge disagreed with the criminal defense attorneys and stated that the questions were limited in number and meant merely to clarify testimony that had already been provided and documents that had already been admitted. In that case, the jury convicted the defendant of possession of heroin and possession with an intent to distribute.

On appeal, the Maryland Appellate Court held that the questions asked by the judge were in the manner of clarifications and did not amount to favoritism.

Contact Waldorf, Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyer Robert Castro Today

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions, contact our office to speak to an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer at (301) 705-5137. We are Waldorf, MD, Criminal Defense lawyers. Our address is 2670 Crain Highway, Waldorf, MD, 20601.