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Pearson v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

February 21, 2014

CERVANTE PEARSON
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Argued January 13, 2014

As Amended June 10, 2014.

Page 1233

Certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals (Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Case No. 108144026). Charles J. Peters, JUDGE.

ARGUED BY Deborah S. Richardson, Assistant Public Defender (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender, of Baltimore MD) on brief FOR PETITIONER.

ARGUED BY Carrie J. Williams, Assistant Attorney General (Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General of Maryland, of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR RESPONDENT.

ARGUED BEFORE: Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, JJ. Harrell, J., concurs. Adkins and McDonald, JJ., dissent.

OPINION

Page 1234

[437 Md. 354] Watts, J.

We decide whether, on request, a trial court must ask during voir dire whether any prospective juror has ever been: (I) the victim of a crime; or (II) a member of a law enforcement agency.

We hold that: (I) a trial court need not ask during voir dire whether any prospective juror has ever been the victim of a crime, but, on request, a trial court must ask during voir dire : " Do any of you have strong feelings about [the crime with which the defendant is charged]?" ; and (II) where all of the State's witnesses are members of law enforcement agencies and/or where the basis for a conviction is reasonably likely to be the testimony of members of law enforcement agencies, on request, a trial court must ask during voir dire : " Have any of you ever been a member of a law enforcement agency?"

BACKGROUND

The State, Respondent, charged Cervante Pearson (" Pearson" ), Petitioner, with various drug-related crimes. Before a jury trial in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City (" the circuit court" ), Pearson's co-defendant filed proposed voir dire questions, including: " Have you, any member of your family, [a] [437 Md. 355] friend, or [an] acquaintance been the victim of a crime? [] Do you know anyone who is employed in the police department, prosecutor's office[,] or other law-enforcement agency? [] Were you ever a member of a law-enforcement agency, either civilian or military?" (Paragraph breaks omitted). The circuit court declined to ask any of these three proposed voir dire questions. Pearson excepted to the circuit court's declining to ask each of the three proposed voir dire questions.

During voir dire, the circuit court asked: (1) " Does any member of the panel hold such strong feelings regarding violations of the narcotics laws that it would be difficult for you to fairly and impartially weigh the facts of this trial where narcotics violations have been alleged?" ; and (2) " [W]ould any member of the jury panel be inclined to give either more or less weight to the

Page 1235

testimony of a police officer than to any other witness in the case, merely because the witness is a police officer?"

At trial, all of the State's witnesses were members of the Baltimore City Police Department. Officer Christopher Faller (" Officer Faller" ) testified that on May 7, 2008, he and other law enforcement officers executed a search warrant for a residence at 1727 East Oliver Street in Baltimore City. Officer Faller testified that, inside the residence, Pearson was using a razorblade to " cut[] a white rock substance." As an expert in " chemistry and analysis of narcotics[,]" Anthony Rumber (" Rumber" ) testified that the white rock substance tested positive for cocaine.

The jury convicted Pearson of various drug-related crimes. Pearson appealed, and, by majority, a panel of the Court of Special Appeals affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in declining to ask the three proposed voir dire questions. The Honorable Irma S. Raker dissented, opining that the circuit court abused its discretion in declining to ask during voir dire whether any prospective juror had ever been a member of a law enforcement agency. Pearson petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which this Court granted. See Pearson v. State, 432 Md. 211, 68 A.3d 286 (2013).

[437 Md. 356] DISCUSSION

I.

Pearson contends that the circuit court abused its discretion in declining to ask during voir dire whether any prospective juror had ever been the victim of a crime. Specifically, Pearson argues that the " victim" voir dire question is reasonably likely to reveal specific cause for disqualification. Alternatively, Pearson asserts that the " victim" voir dire question would facilitate the exercise of peremptory challenges.

The State responds that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in declining to ask during voir dire whether any prospective juror had ever been the victim of a crime. Specifically, the State contends that the " victim" voir dire question is not reasonably likely to reveal specific cause for disqualification. The State argues that the " strong feelings" voir dire questions make the " victim" voir dire question unnecessary. The State asserts that facilitating the exercise of peremptory challenges is not a proper purpose of voir dire in Maryland.

An appellate court reviews for abuse of discretion a trial court's decision as to whether to ask a voir dire question. See Washington v. State, 425 Md. 306, 314, 40 A.3d 1017, 1021 (2012) (" We review the trial [court]'s rulings on the record of the voir dire process as a whole for an abuse of discretion[.]" (Citation omitted)).

A defendant has a right to " an impartial jury[.]" U.S. Const. amend. VI; Md. Decl. of Rts. Art. 21. Voir dire ( i.e ., the questioning of prospective jurors) " is critical to" implementing the right to an impartial jury. Washington, 425 Md. at 312, 40 A.3d at 1020 (citation omitted).

Maryland employs " limited voir dire." Id. at 313, 40 A.3d at 1020 (citation omitted). That is, in Maryland, the sole purpose of voir dire " is to ensure a fair and impartial jury by determining the existence of [specific] cause for disqualification[.]" Id. at 312, 40 A.3d at 1020 (citations omitted). Unlike in many other jurisdictions, facilitating " the intelligent exercise [437 Md. 357] of peremptory challenges" is not a purpose of voir dire in Maryland. Id. at 312, 40 A.3d at 1020 (citations omitted). Thus, a trial court need not ask a voir dire question that ...


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