Appeal from the Circuit Court for Wicomico County; Taylor, J.
Brune, C. J., and Henderson, Hammond, Prescott and Sybert, JJ. Sybert, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.
The appellant, Charles L. Humphreys, a Negro, was found guilty by a jury in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County of raping a white woman and was sentenced to a term of twenty years in the Maryland Penitentiary. In this appeal from the judgment and sentence he makes the following contentions: (1) that it was prejudicial error for the trial court to refuse to examine prospective jurors on voir dire as to possible racial prejudice in a case of this character, with the particularity requested by him; (2) that it was reversible error to refuse to allow his witness, Merrill Dashiell, to answer a question concerning the reputation of the prosecuting witness for having
associated with colored men; and (3) that the evidence was insufficient in law to sustain the conviction.
In view of the questions raised and our disposition of the case, it is unnecessary to set out in great detail the facts and attendant circumstances of the alleged crime. In brief, the prosecutrix charged that the automobile in which appellant was riding crowded her car off the road, that appellant (whom she did not know) forcibly entered her car and, after driving it into a wooded area, raped her after threats and physical violence. The appellant denied any use of force and contended that the prosecutrix voluntarily submitted to his advances. The jury's verdict shows that it rejected this defense. Other relevant facts will be mentioned in our discussion of the points raised.
It is settled law in this State that in a case where prejudice against the Negro race may be a factor in determining a prospective juror's attitude toward a particular defendant, the existence of such prejudice is a proper area of inquiry in the voir dire examination of the jurors. Contee v. State, 223 Md. 575, 165 A.2d 889 (1960); Brown v. State, 220 Md. 29, 150 A.2d 895 (1959). Where such inquiry is sought on voir dire examination and the trial court refuses to ask questions of the jurors directed toward this end, we have held that this "failure to elicit from the jurors the essence of the information sought by the appellant was reversible error". (Emphasis added.) Brown v. State, supra, at p. 36.
Appellant submitted to the trial court seven questions pertaining to racial bias to be asked in the voir dire examination. Of these, the trial court permitted the four following to be propounded to each prospective juror:
"Can you, without bias or prejudice, pass your verdict in this case solely on the evidence produced from the witness stand without regard to the race, creed or color of the defendant?
"Do you feel that the fact that the defendant and the prosecuting witness are of different races justifies that the case should be considered as different from
one wherein the defendant and the prosecuting witness are ...