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What Questions Can You Ask Prospective Jurors in a Criminal Trial?

Every person on trial for a crime in Maryland has the right to have their case heard by an impartial jury. At the start of the trial, the prosecution and the defense are given the chance to ask questions of prospective jurors. This process is known as voir dire, and it is intended to screen out any jurors who might not be impartial for one reason or another.

In January 2020, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an important ruling, Kazadi v. State, with respect to the voir dire process. Kazadi overruled a 1960s decision from the Court that limited the types of questions that could be posed to prospective jurors. Specifically, it was deemed inappropriate to ask jurors any questions “concerning the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof, and a defendant’s right to remain silent.” Under Kazadi, such questions may now be asked.

Indeed, the Kazadi court made it clear that if a defendant wants to ask jurors about any of these subjects, the court must allow it. Failure to ask is itself a reversible error, meaning a defendant is entitled to a new trial before a different jury. The Court of Appeals further held this new rule applied to any criminal conviction that was under direct appeal at the time Kazadi was issued.

Court of Appeals Ruling Affects Several Pending Criminal Convictions

More recently, in February 2021, the Court of Special Appeals applied Kazadi and ordered a new jury trial in the case of Ringgold v. State. This case involved a man tried for burglary in 2019, shortly before the Court of Appeals issued its Kazadi decision. During voir dire, the defense asked the judge to question the prospective jurors on whether they had “any objection to or reservation” to the defendant’s legal presumption of innocence. The judge declined to pose the question. The jury was seated and proceeded to find the defendant guilty.

Before the Court of Special Appeals, there was no question the judge’s actions violated Kazadi. The only issue for the appellate court to decide was whether or not the defendant properly preserved his objection for appeal, given that his attorney told the court at the end of voir dire that the selected jury was acceptable.

The Court said the objection was properly preserved. Under Maryland law, the fact that defense counsel objected to the judge’s failure to pose the requested question was sufficient to preserve the issue for appeal. The fact the trial proceeded anyways did not constitute “acquiescence” to the incorrect ruling. The defendant in this case was therefore legally entitled to a new trial based on the trial judge’s “innocent” mistake.

Contact Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyer Robert R. 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 lawyer at (301) 705-5137.