EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dismissed With Prejudice, Take 2: Recent Maryland Opinion Reveals That The Terrpain State Precludes Jury Impeachment Based Upon Allegations Of Juror Racism

In my forthcoming article, Dismissed with Prejudice: Why Application of the Anti-Jury Impeachment Rule to Allegations of Racial, Religious, or Other Bias Violates the Right to Present a Defense, I cite to a number of state court opinions precluding jurors from impeaching their verdicts through allegations of juror racial prejudice during deliberations.  In the article, however, I did not cite to any opinions from Maryland, but the recent opinion of the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in Dorsey v. State, 2009 WL 809451 (Md.App. 2009) reveals that the Terrapin State precludes jury impeachment on these grounds as well.

Dorsey itself actually did not involve post-trial allegations of juror racial bias.  Instead, Theodore Doresy appealed from his second degree arson conviction, and the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland found that jurors could not impeach their verdict through testimony that jurors took his decision not to testify as evidence of his guilt pursuant to Maryland Rule of Evidence 5-606(b)(1), which states that:

In any inquiry into the validity of a verdict, a sworn juror may not testify as to (A) any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury's deliberations, (B) the effect of anything upon that or any other sworn juror's mind or emotions as influencing the sworn juror to assent or dissent from the verdict, or (C) the sworn juror's mental processes in connection with the verdict. 

In reaching this conclusion, however, the court relied in part on the opinion of the Court of Appeals of Maryland in Williams v. State, 102 A.2d 714 (Md. 1954). In that case, an African-American woman appealed from her assault and battery conviction and sought to introduce the affidavit of a juror, who averred

"This was an all white jury. From the beginning of the discussion in the jury room it was the race of the defendant, not the facts, which were weighed by the majority of the jurors. They freely discussed the race of this girl and said that where colored people are concerned the police have got to be right. Bandied back and forth between the jurors were the statements that these colored people are smart alecs, especially the educated ones; that they overassert their rights; that we must teach them a lesson. Four of the jurors, including myself, were for complete acquittal at the first of the discussion. A fifth juror was undecided. The other jurors kept hammering at us. One of the jurywomen exclaimed to me, 'You're taking that colored girl's word against the police. You must be in trouble with the police!' I told her I had never been in trouble with the police, that I had many friends who were police officers, but I felt this girl was innocent. The last half hour, I held out alone. I finally threw in the towel when some of the jurors accused me of being a 'nigger-lover.'"

The Court of Appeals in Williams deemed this affidavit admissible, concluding that "[w]e have been referred to no case, and careful independent research has disclosed none, where a verdict was set aside on appeal in any jurisdiction, because of fallacious, unfair or biased arguments advanced by jurors to one another in their deliberations." In so folding, the Court of Appeals remarked that it reached this conclusion even though the "claim that a litigant has been denied justice on account of his or her race ... rais[es] an issue of utmost gravity." 

So, we can add Maryland to the list of states that preclude jury impeachment based upon allegations of juror racial prejudice, and I think that this last sentence from Williams goes a long way toward explaining why the application of such a rule violates the right to present a defense.



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