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Maryland Court of Appeals Helps Criminal Defendants Filter Prospective Jurors

Before a juror can be chosen to serve in a jury, there is a process known as voir dire. This is the questioning of prospective jurors to determine if the juror would be biased in a particular case. Last week, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in Maryland, reversed a criminal conviction, Cervante Pearson v. State, while setting new standards for questioning prospective jurors: The court found that if the prosecution's case relies heavily on police testimony, the defense may require that all jurors be asked if they have ever been a member of a law enforcement agency.

The court found that if a case for a criminal conviction is strongly based on the testimony of members of law enforcement agencies, and the prospective juror has been a member of a law enforcement agency, that potential juror may give more weight to those testimonies because of this affiliation. Because of this, a defendant is entitled to know of this association and be given the opportunity to strike him as a prospective juror.

The court, along with this, also overturned a 2011 holding which allowed for the defense to ask prospective jurors if they have "strong feelings" about the crime that would make it difficult for them to "fairly and impartially weigh the facts of [the] trial." The court removed the condition which asked if these strong feelings would make it difficult for them to fairly and impartially weight the facts of the trial. Now, the question only asks of the prospective juror has strong feelings about the crime and allows the litigants to determine if these feelings will make it difficult for the prospective juror to be fair and impartial.

While these holdings are good news for future criminal defendants, the court made it clear that convicts may not use these new standards to overturn their convictions.