Frazier v. State

Decision Date03 February 2011
Docket NumberNo. 1472,Sept. Term,2009.,1472
Citation197 Md.App. 264,13 A.3d 83
PartiesRobert FRAZIERv.STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland


Allison P. Brasseaux (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for appellant.Sharon S. Street (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for appellee.Panel: * HOLLANDER, WRIGHT and IRMA S. RAKER (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.WRIGHT, J.

Appellant, Robert Frazier, was indicted in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, and charged with distribution of cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and possession of cocaine. Following a jury trial, Frazier was convicted on all counts. He was subsequently sentenced to fifteen years for distribution of cocaine. Frazier timely appealed and presents the following questions for our review:

1. Did the trial court's voir dire method deprive Mr. Frazier of his constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury?

2. Did the trial court abuse its discretion when it denied Mr. Frazier's motion for a mistrial?

3. Did the trial court err when it overruled defense counsel's objection to the prosecutor's closing argument?

For the following reasons, we shall affirm.

Jury Selection

Prior to beginning the voir dire procedure, the trial judge informed the jury as follows:

I'm going to ask you a series of questions. At the end of each group of questions, those of you who are answering will come to the bench and give your answers in the relative privacy that we can afford you. Counsel will use these questions and answers in order to decide which jurors to challenge and which jurors to keep. And that's how we get the panel down from 58 to 12 with an alternate.

If you're not sure whether information you possess is an answer to a question, please err on the side of answering. It's better for us to know too much rather than too little. We don't want to have a situation where we try the case, send the jury out to deliberate, and somebody goes to the jury room and says, “I can't do it,” “I can't return a unanimous verdict,” “I've got this problem.” The time to tell us about the problem is now, not later.

The court then began the voir dire procedure by asking a group of questions concerning whether the jurors knew Frazier, the attorneys, the judge or his staff, or any witnesses in the case. The court also asked if the venire knew anything about the case, whether they were racially biased against Frazier, or if any member of the venire belonged to a religion that prevented them from judging another person. At the conclusion of this first group of questions, the court then stated, “if anybody is answering any of those questions, please form a line.” The court then heard from eighteen (18) prospective jurors at the bench.

Thereafter, the court asked the second series of voir dire questions, indicating that “the next question has three parts.” The court asked if any prospective juror had ever served as a juror or grand juror, whether they could never vote not guilty or guilty, or whether any juror, their family or friends, had any experience whatsoever with street drugs, including treatment or simply having witnessed drug transactions in their neighborhood. The court then directed those answering to approach the bench, and thirty-one (31) prospective jurors responded. Of those thirty-one prospective jurors, one juror asked the court to repeat the question.

The court then asked a third group of questions, stating “question number three many of you have answered already. Please don't answer it again. Only come if there is new information.” The court then asked if any member of the panel would automatically believe or disbelieve testimony of a law enforcement officer, a State's witness, or a defense witness. The court also asked if anyone, or their friends or family, were employed or closely associated with law enforcement. Those answering affirmatively were directed to form a line, and fourteen prospective jurors responded.

Finally, the court asked a fourth group of questions, informing the venire that “the last question has several components.” The jury was asked if they, their family, or their friends had “any kind of contact with the criminal justice system or the court system,” including being a victim or a witness, or having been arrested or incarcerated. The court also stated that if any prospective juror did not understand the questions, did not speak English, were not over eighteen years of age, or were not a United States citizen, then those prospective jurors should “join the line.” The court informed the venire about the burden of proof in a criminal case, and asked if any person would hold the State to a different burden or would “hold the Defendant to any burden at all,” or whether they would be unable to follow the court's instructions. Finally, the court stated that if any prospective juror had anything else they wanted to inform the court, including any scheduling issues, “please bring it to our attention.”

After asking the prosecutor and defense counsel if he missed “any important questions,” and after both attorneys responded in the negative, the court then heard individually from eighteen members of the venire. After this, the court entertained challenges for cause from the attorneys and excused thirty-one of the prospective jurors. The attorneys then proceeded to select a jury and both parties used all of their peremptory strikes.


Trial commenced and the State's first witness was Lieutenant Ian Dombronsky, employed with the Baltimore City Police Department for approximately twelve years. Lieutenant Dombronsky testified that he had been involved in various divisions within the department over the years, including working in an undercover capacity to buy drugs on the streets of Baltimore City. At the time of the events at issue in this case, Lieutenant Dombronsky was assigned as a supervisor in the Violent Crime Impact Division. He also testified he had over 150 hours of specialized training in the enforcement of narcotics laws.

On December 18, 2008, at approximately 9:10 p.m., Lieutenant Dombronsky was in plain clothes, driving an unmarked police vehicle, in the area of Presbury Street and Moreland Avenue, because that area had the “highest volume of CDS calls for service” at that time. As he was driving around the area, Lieutenant Dombronsky saw Frazier and Frazier yelled “Yo” several times towards the officer. Believing that Frazier was flagging him down in order to sell drugs, Dombronsky stopped his vehicle, rolled down the passenger side window, and asked Frazier, “Who's got some ready out?” “Ready,” Dombronsky explained, was a street term for crack cocaine. Frazier asked: “How many?” After Dombronksy replied that he wanted three, Frazier told Dombronksy to park in the 2400 block of Presbury Street.

At this point, Lieutenant Dombronsky did not have an arrest team set up, so he decided to make the purchase using his own personal money. While Frazier was walking to a parked minivan, on the other side of Moreland Avenue, Dombronsky pulled out a twenty dollar bill and two five dollar bills and began making small tears in those bills for purposes of later identification.

While he was making those tears, Frazier returned and asked, “Why are you tearing the money?” and “You ain't no police, are you?” Lieutenant Dombronsky handed over the money and, as Frazier handed over three bags of suspected crack cocaine in return, Dombronsky tried to change the subject by stating, “This isn't no burn, is it?” meaning that he was asking if the drugs were fake. Frazier replied no, and then quickly left the scene. Lieutenant Dombronsky then made the tactical decision not to pursue Frazier at that time.

Lieutenant Dombronsky drove away and parked his vehicle away from the area where the transaction occurred. He then got out of his vehicle on foot and walked to a vacant house that he sometimes used for purposes of surveillance. A short time later, Frazier returned to the area, having moved the aforementioned minivan closer to Lieutenant Dombronsky's vantage point. 1

At that time, Dombronsky observed Frazier engage in another suspected drug transaction with an occupant of a silver sports utility vehicle. Dombronsky called for an arrest team and provided a radio description of the minivan Frazier was operating. That team was unable to find Frazier or the minivan, and Lieutenant Dombronsky returned to the police station in order to obtain a marked police vehicle.

After Dombronsky returned to the area in the marked unit, he found Frazier on Thomas Avenue near the minivan. Lieutenant Dombronsky recognized Frazier, as well as the jacket he was wearing, from the earlier drug transaction that evening. Dombronsky got out of his vehicle and spoke to Frazier, and Frazier was placed under arrest after other police officers from the Western District arrived on the scene.2

Once the arrest team arrived, Frazier was placed in handcuffs and read his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Lieutenant Dombronsky testified that he believed that Frazier understood his rights by nodding his head, and Frazier began stating “things along the lines of ‘I'll get you guys a gun if you let me go,’ or ‘I'll tell you about drug dealers,’ and things of that nature.” Lieutenant Dombronsky maintained that he had not begun to question Frazier when those statements were made.

Instead, Lieutenant Dombronsky searched Frazier's person and did not recover the money that he gave Frazier earlier during their transaction. The twenty dollar bill that Dombronsky tore was recovered from the center console of the minivan. Dombronsky also verified that this was the same twenty dollar bill because it was in sequential order by serial number with a number of other bills he obtained earlier from an ATM machine. Police also recovered $254 in currency from the...

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