King v. State

Decision Date22 May 1980
Docket NumberNo. 39,39
Citation414 A.2d 909,287 Md. 530
PartiesLester Arthur KING, Jr. and Robin Carol King v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Richard Allen James, Greenbelt, for appellants.

Alexander L. Cummings, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore (Stephen H. Sachs, Atty. Gen., Baltimore, on brief), for appellee.



The issue in this criminal case is whether the trial court erred by excluding, for cause, two persons from the panel of prospective jurors solely because of their beliefs that the law concerning marijuana, under which the defendants were charged, ought to be changed. For the following reasons, we hold that the court erroneously excluded the two prospective jurors.

The relevant facts are undisputed. Lester A. King and Robin C. King, the defendants, were convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County of possession and possession with the intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance (marijuana). At the beginning of the voir dire, the trial court explained the charges against the defendants and then, on its own initiative and without the request of either counsel, asked the following question:

"Now, are there any of you who feel that the law is wrong when it prevents the use of marijuana and possession of it? It is definitely a crime in this and other states to possess it and to manufacture it and so forth."

Two persons answered affirmatively. The following took place with respect to the first of the two prospective jurors:

"THE COURT: Your name, sir?

A JUROR: Jeffrey Kitchen.

THE COURT: Jeffrey Kitchen, E-11. All right. You have a feeling that it is all right?

A JUROR: It ought to be a citation. It ought to be decriminalized. It shouldn't ruin a person's whole life.

THE COURT: All right.

A JUROR: It should just be for possession.

THE COURT: All right, you can go back to the jury lounge. Tell Mr. Cuff I sent you back.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: He has been excused for cause?


DEFENSE COUNSEL: For the record, please


DEFENSE COUNSEL: I don't think we are going to get to him anyway. I would object to him being excused for cause. He did not say he would be biased to the guilt or innocence of the defendants, but simply that it should be decriminalized and the citation. I don't think he should be excused for cause.

THE COURT: If someone doesn't believe the law as it now exists, they certainly are not qualified as jurors.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: I make an objection, Your Honor. . . ."

A similar colloquy then took place between the court and the second juror, Muriel English, who responded:

"I feel that the law should be changed perhaps not with respect to dealing in conspiracy certainly, but simple possession."

The record with regard to the second juror goes on to show the following:

"THE COURT: Do you want to ask her any questions?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Have you had an experience either of your own or a member of your family which you feel would render you biased and make you unable to give a fair and impartial verdict in a case dealing with the charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana?



THE COURT: Your position is that you do not think the law is proper as it now is?

A JUROR: As I understand the law, Judge Shure, I am not absolutely sure that I know how it stands in Maryland now.

THE COURT: It is just against the law to distribute it or to manufacture it or to sell it or to have anything to do with it.

A JUROR: You mean simple possession?

THE COURT: Oh, yes.

A JUROR: I see. Well, I think the simple possession part should be changed.

THE COURT: All right. Possession is part of this charge, so I am satisfied that she is not a competent juror.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: I would object to this juror being stricken also . . . .

DEFENSE COUNSEL: . . . And my position on behalf of the defendants is that neither of the two individuals thus far have indicated they would ignore the law. . . ."

The jury was then impaneled; the trial took place; and the defendants were convicted.

On their appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, the defendants argued that the trial court had abused its discretion by excusing the two prospective jurors solely because they believed that the law should be changed, without inquiring whether their personal opinions would interfere with their ability to determine fairly and impartially the defendants' guilt or innocence. In an unreported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the defendants' convictions, holding that the exclusion of the prospective jurors was not reversible error. Upon the defendants' petition, we issued a writ of certiorari. 1

The defendants initially assert that the question asked by the trial court was itself improper because it exceeded the scope of permissible inquiry on voir dire. According to the defendants, the court's question did not inquire whether the two jurors had any bias or prejudice that would render them unfit for jury duty but only asked whether the jurors thought that the law should be changed. The defendants further argue that the trial court compounded its error by excusing the jurors who answered affirmatively without additionally inquiring whether their personal opinions concerning the law would affect their ability to reach a fair and impartial decision regarding the defendants' guilt or innocence. The defendants claim that the exclusion of all jurors who believed the law concerning possession and distribution of marijuana ought to be modified resulted in the impaneling of a jury that was prosecution prone.

We need not in this case address the issue of whether it is improper on voir dire to ask prospective jurors whether they believe that the applicable law should be changed. 2 Assuming arguendo that the question was proper, we hold that the trial court nevertheless erred by excusing the jurors for cause without further inquiring whether the jurors' personal belief would prejudice them against the State or the defendants or render them unable to apply the law if a violation were proved.

In determining whether a juror should be excused for cause, the general question is whether a person holds a particular belief or prejudice that would affect his ability or disposition to consider the evidence fairly and impartially and reach a just conclusion. See Grossfeld v. Braverman, 203 Md. 498, 501, 101 A.2d 824 (1954); Adams, Nelson, and Timanus v. State, 200 Md. 133, 140-141, 88 A.2d 556 (1952); Maryland Code (1974, 1980 Repl.Vol.), § 8-210(b)(2) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. In our view, the mere statement by a juror of his belief that the criminal law concerning marijuana ought to be modified, without more does not indicate that the juror is biased, prejudiced or unqualified to be a juror in a prosecution for possession and distribution for marijuana. Many people may personally believe that a particular law is undesirable or should be changed, yet the existence of such a belief does not necessarily mean that the holder would refuse or be unable to apply the existing law to the facts of the case. As was explained by the Supreme Court in Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968), in which the Court held that a death sentence could not be carried out if it were imposed by a jury from which jurors who had merely expressed a general objection to the death penalty had been excluded,

"it cannot be assumed that a juror who describes himself as having 'conscientious or religious scruples' against the infliction of the death penalty or against its infliction 'in a proper case' (see People v. Bandhauer, 66 Cal.2d 524, 531, 58 Cal.Rptr. 332, 337, 426 P.2d 900, 905) thereby affirms that he could never vote in favor of it or that he would not consider doing so in the case before him. See also the voir dire in Rhea v. State, 63 Neb. 461, 466-468, 88 N.W. 789, 790. Cf. State v. Williams, 50 Nev. 271, 278, 257 P. 619, 621. Obviously many jurors 'could, notwithstanding their conscientious scruples (against capital punishment), return . . . (a) verdict (of death) and . . . make their scruples subservient to their duty as jurors.' " 391 U.S. at 515 n. 9, 88 S.Ct. at 1773-1774.

It is common knowledge that a significant segment of our society believes, as a matter of public policy, that the criminal laws relating to marijuana should be modified in one way or another. Such a belief concerning a matter of debatable public policy raises no presumption that those persons could not properly apply the existing laws to the evidence. Moreover, if all such individuals were automatically excluded from juries hearing criminal cases like the instant one, a large part of the community would be excluded from jury service in many criminal prosecutions under the laws relating to controlled dangerous substances. This would not be consistent with the policy that petit jurors "shall be selected at random from a fair cross section of the citizens of the State." Code (1974, 1980 Repl.Vol.), § 8-102(a) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. Consequently, absent some further questioning as to whether a juror's belief concerning the marijuana laws would keep him from properly applying the law to the evidence, it is error to dismiss the juror. People v. Davis, 27 Cal.App.3d 115, 103 Cal.Rptr. 494 (1972). Cf. Brice v. State, 264 Md. 352, 359-365, 286 A.2d 132 (1972); Adams, Nelson, and Timanus v. State, supra, 200 Md. at 141 ("But unless such beliefs would prevent an impartial consideration of the evidence and a proper application of the existing law, they would not disqualify."); State v. Smith, 422 S.W.2d 50, 67-68 (Mo.1967), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 895, 89 S.Ct. 150, 21 L.Ed.2d 176 (1968).

In this case, the trial court did not attempt to...

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  • Foster v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1984
    ...affect his ability or disposition to consider the evidence fairly and impartially," he "should be excused for cause." King v. State, 287 Md. 530, 535, 414 A.2d 909 (1980). See Grossfeld v. Braverman, 203 Md. 498, 501, 101 A.2d 824 (1954); Adams, Nelson, and Timanus v. State, 200 Md. 133, 14......
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    ...was incapable of fairly applying existing law." 10 Supplemental Brief of Defendant-Appellant at 3. Compare King v. State, 287 Md. 530, 414 A.2d 909 (Ct.App.1980) (in prosecution for distribution and for possession of marijuana, error to exclude two jurors for cause on basis that they favore......
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    ...Meyer. A trial judge should not excuse prospective jurors for cause simply because of the juror's abstract beliefs. King v. State, 287 Md. 530, 539, 414 A.2d 909, 913 (1980). We agree that excusing jurors for cause because of their abstract beliefs is an abuse of discretion because it "excl......
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