Humphreys v. State

Decision Date05 December 1961
Docket NumberNo. 84,84
Citation227 Md. 115,175 A.2d 777
PartiesCharles L. HUMPHREYS v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Hamilton P. Fox, Jr., Salisbury, for appellant.

Robert S. Bourbon, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Thomas B. Finan, Atty. Gen., and Alfred T. Truitt, Jr., State's Atty. for Wicomico County, Salisbury, on the brief), for appellee.


SYBERT, Judge.

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 for 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, 150 A.2d at p. 898.

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 of the same race?

'Have you any prejudice against the Negro as a Negro that would induce you to return a verdict on less or slighter evidence than you would return a verdict of guilty against a white man under the same circumstances?

'Can you give the defendant, who is a Negro, as fair and impartial a trial as you could a white man, and give him the same advantage and protection as you would a white man upon the same evidence?'

The trial court refused to permit the asking of the three remaining questions, which were directed specifically to the crime of rape, and the situation where a colored man is charged with that offense against a white woman. These questions were:

'Do you feel that a case wherein a colored man is charged with rape of a white woman should be considered as different from a case wherein a white man was charged with the rape of a colored woman?

'Would you return a verdict of guilty on less or slighter evidence in a case where a colored man is charged with the rape of a white woman than you would in a case where a white man was charged with the rape of a colored woman?

'Would you return a verdict of guilty on less or slighter evidence in a case where the charge was rape and the defendant was of a different race than the prosecuting witness than you would in a similar case where the defendant and the prosecuting witness were of the same race?'

It is the essence of the appellant's argument that it is not enough for a trial court to recognize and explore the possibility of racial prejudice on the part of jurors, but that in a case involving the rape of a white woman, charged to one of the Negro race, it should be further recognized that such bias or prejudice is likely to be greater. Appellant therefore maintains that the possibility of having jurors who, although having no bias or prejudice against Negroes generally, would have sufficient bias or prejudice to convict a Negro of raping a white woman on less or slighter evidence than that upon which they would convict a white man of raping a Negro woman under similar circumstances, is not so remote as to justify the trial court's failure to ask the three questions pointed toward this cause for disqualification, and thus, he claims, the trial court's failure to do so constituted prejudicial error.

Whether, in a proper case, a trial court is under any duty to question a juror as appellant would have had it do, is not a question which we must answer in the present case. It is evident from the record that the members of the jury panel were well apprised of the fact, before any questions were propounded to them on voir dire, that the case about to be tried involved a charge of rape against the defendant. The transcript shows that just before the voir dire examination of the prospective jurors began, the clerk asked the prisoner to stand and, in the presence of the veniremen, announced:

'You, Charles Humphreys, now prisoner at the bar, hear what is said to you; these ladies and gentlemen that have been called are those that shall pass between the State of Maryland and you upon your trial for rape, assault with intent to rape, and assault. If therefore you would challenge them or any of them you must do it as they come to be sworn, before they are sworn, and you will be heard.' (Emphasis supplied.)

Following this came the voir dire examination itself. From the substance of the questions which the trial court did ask in regard to racial prejudice, including the reference in the questions to the fact that the appellant and the prosecuting witness were of different races, and the two hypothetical questions dealing with 'a white man', the jurors could not fail to understand (if they did not, in fact, know it previously) that the case involved the rape of a white woman by a Negro defendant.

In this State there is no statute or specific rule prescribing the questions which should be asked in determining the eligibility of a juryman, but the subject is left largely to the trial court's sound discretion. The trial court should, in the exercise of its discretion, adapt the questions as the needs of the particular case dictate in the effort to obtain an impartial jury. Bryant v. State, 207 Md. 565, 115 A.2d 502 (1955). We think that, in the setting disclosed by the record of the case at hand, the appellant was furnished a jury shown by their examination to be qualified to give him a fair trial. We find no abuse of discretion by the trial court in this respect. We therefore hold that under the circumstances presented in this case, the questions which were propounded by the trial court did in essence elicit from the jurors the information sought by the appellant in regard to racial bias, and that no prejudice resulted to appellant from the exclusion of his...

To continue reading

Request your trial
30 cases
  • Westley v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 2, 2021
    ...183 A.2d 359 (1962), vacated and remanded on other grounds , 386 U.S. 66, 87 S.Ct. 793, 17 L.Ed.2d 737 (1967), and Humphreys v. State , 227 Md. 115, 121, 175 A.2d 777 (1961) ). The Court of Appeals subsequently identified two purposes of the Rape Shield Statute as: (1) "to protect rape vict......
  • Ennis v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1985
    ...Judge Henderson stated for the Court: "It is quite clear this Court will not review in the absence of a motion below. Humphreys v. State, 227 Md. 115, 123 ; Woodell v. State, 223 Md. 89, 91 . We are aware of no case supporting the appellant's contention as to due process. In a number of rec......
  • Giles v. State of Maryland
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • February 20, 1967
    ...State, 133 Md. 613, 105 A. 867, and specific acts of intercourse are inadmissible to establish the prosecutrix' consent. Humphreys v. State, 227 Md. 115, 175 A.2d 777, prior inconsistent statements and evidence of general reputation for unchastity are admissible to impeach a witness' credib......
  • England v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 28, 1974, given birth to an illegitimate child. We think the judge's refusal to allow the question to be correct. In Humphreys v. State, 227 Md. 115, at 121-122, 175 A.2d 777, at (1961), the Court of Appeals, speaking through Judge Sybert, 'It is well established that there is no requirement th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT