Stevenson v. State, No. 98

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtArgued before MURPHY; DIGGES; ELDRIDGE; The advisory instructions given, to which objection was made; COLE; DAVIDSON
PartiesDorothy Lou STEVENSON v. STATE of Maryland.
Docket NumberNo. 98
Decision Date17 December 1980

Page 167

289 Md. 167
423 A.2d 558
Dorothy Lou STEVENSON
v.
STATE of Maryland.
No. 98.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Dec. 17, 1980.

[423 A.2d 559]

Page 168

Thomas J. Saunders, Asst. Public Defender, Baltimore

Page 169

(Alan H. Murrell, Public Defender, Baltimore, on brief), for appellant.

Stephen B. Caplis, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore (Stephen H. Sachs, Atty. Gen., Baltimore, on brief), for appellee.

Argued before MURPHY, C. J., and SMITH, DIGGES, ELDRIDGE, COLE, DAVIDSON, and RODOWSKY, JJ.

DIGGES, Judge.

We granted certiorari in this criminal cause "limited solely to the question whether the trial court denied (the accused) the right to due process guaranteed by the XIV Amendment (to the United States Constitution) when it gave advisory rather than binding (jury) instructions." In other words, our review here is confined to whether Article 23 of the Declaration of Rights to the Maryland Constitution, which provides that the jury in a criminal case "shall be the Judges of Law, as well as of fact," is unconstitutional because the provision, as construed by this Court, facially deprives a defendant of the federally secured right to due process of law. Recognizing the purely legal nature of this query, a brief summary of the facts will suffice.

Petitioner Dorothy Lou Stevenson was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court for Kent County (Clark, J.) of the first degree murder of her husband and of setting a fire while perpetrating a crime. She was subsequently sentenced to concurrent terms of life imprisonment and three years, respectively. On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals, in an unreported opinion, affirmed these convictions.

[423 A.2d 560] The record shows that Mr. Stevenson's death occurred on July 18, 1977, as a result of second and third degree burns which he suffered from a fire in his home bedroom nineteen days earlier. At the trial, the central question was how the fire started, and extensive testimony was taken to resolve that issue. From this evidence, the following facts may be distilled: On the morning of the fire, petitioner discovered

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her husband in bed on his boat with another woman. Following a brief argument, petitioner left the boat and returned to the family home where she awaited her husband. Upon his arrival five hours later, a second argument erupted between the Stevensons concerning the husband's infidelity. According to a statement given by Mr. Stevenson shortly before his death, this heated discussion had ended with his wife leaving the house; he then went to bed, but was later awakened when the petitioner poured gasoline on him and ignited it with a match. Mrs. Stevenson's version of the events of that morning differed dramatically: According to her statement given to police on the day of the fire, which was introduced at trial without objection (she did not testify), the wife and husband were arguing in their bedroom when Mr. Stevenson advanced towards her in a threatening manner and Mrs. Stevenson, in self-defense, threw a pitcher of gasoline at her husband to impede his approach. Asked how the pitcher happened to be nearby, the petitioner responded by saying that "I brought it in the house yesterday, because I was going to clean up the yard for a swimming pool and I didn't take it out again." Moreover, the wife disavowed any complicity in starting the fire "I didn't light no matches or nothing. (The gasoline) just exploded when I threw it." The jury, however, was not convinced and convicted Mrs. Stevenson both of the first degree murder of her husband and of setting the fire while perpetrating a crime.

The gravamen of petitioner's claim of error is that she was denied due process when the trial judge refused to give her following requested pre and post-evidence instructions to the jury:

Pre-evidence.

The law as given by this court in its instructions to you constitutes the only law for your guidance, and it is your duty to accept and follow it. It is your duty to follow the law as I give it even though you may disagree with the law.

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Post-evidence.

It is your duty as jurors to follow the law as stated in the instructions of the court, and to apply the rules of law so given to the facts as you find them from the evidence in the case. Counsel may refer to some of the governing rules of law in their arguments. If, however, any difference appears to you between the law as stated by counsel and that stated by the court in these instructions, you of course are to be governed by the instructions.

Instead of these requested directives, which the court ruled were contrary to the law of this State, Judge Clark proceeded to give the jury, both in oral and written form, an extensive set of "preliminary instructions" 1 which included a brief explanation of the jury's unique constitutional role in the trial of criminal cases in this State. The jury was informed that "(u)nder the Constitution of Maryland, (you are) the judge of the law as well as of the facts. Therefore, anything which I may say about the law, including any instructions which I may give you, is merely advisory and you are not in any way bound by it." At the close of the evidence, however, when the court actually "instructed" the jury as to the applicable substantive law, Md. Rule 757 d, the judge did not again mention that his statements concerning the law were for its guidance [423 A.2d 561] and not binding; rather he couched all of his remarks in mandatory language. No question has been raised concerning the propriety of the individual instructions given here, other than the failure to inform the jury that all instructions on the law were binding on it. 2

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Consequently, we only address, as requested by the petitioner, whether Article 23 which, as interpreted by this Court, requires that jury instructions on the law be advisory

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only, is itself violative of the United States Constitution. This Maryland constitutionally declared right provides in pertinent part:

In the trial of all criminal cases, the Jury shall be the Judges of Law, as well as of fact, except that the Court may pass upon the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction.

(i)

Background

Article 23, although not in this identical form, was first incorporated into the constitution of this State by the adoption of Article X, section 5 of the Maryland Constitution of 1851. 3 The debates of the 1851 [423 A.2d 562] Constitutional Convention, while shedding little light on the meaning of that article, do reveal that the motivation for its adoption was a concern by the delegates regarding the lack of uniformity in Maryland in the practice of instructing juries. See II Debates and Proceedings of the Maryland Reform Convention to Revise the State Constitution 768 (May 7, 1851). As Judge Niles explains in his work on Maryland constitutional law:

In the convention of 1851, there were opposing views as to the power of a jury in a criminal case, which prevailed in different parts of the state, and

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to guard in the future against such conflicts, the provision ... was inserted in the Constitution. (A. Niles, Maryland Constitutional Law 340 (1915).)

Accord, Jacobsohn, The Right to Disagree: Judges, Juries, and The Administration of Criminal Justice in Maryland, 1976 Wash.U.L.Q. 571, 574. See generally Beard v. State, 71 Md. 275, 279, 17 A. 1044, 1045 (1889); Prescott, Juries as Judges of the Law: Should the Practice be Continued?, 60 Md.St.Bar Ass'n 246, 247 (1955). Article 23, however, reflects deeper currents of concern relative to administering criminal justice in this State, as Judge Delaplaine noted in his opinion for this Court in Slansky v. State, 192 Md. 94, 63 A.2d 599 (1949):

In England the question whether the jury should have the right to decide the law in criminal cases was for centuries the subject of controversy. But at the time of American independence the prevailing rule of the common law in England was that the court should judge the law, and the jury should apply the law to the facts. This doctrine was condemned by some of the Colonial statesmen, notably John Adams, who believed that the juries should be entitled to disregard the arbitrary and unjust rulings of the judges holding office by authority of the Crown.... In some of the New England Colonies it was fully understood that the judges held office not for the purpose of deciding causes, for the jury decided all questions of both law and fact, but merely to preserve order and see that the parties were treated fairly before the jury. This procedure received patriotic justification as increasingly oppressive measures were taken by royal officials....

The restrictions upon the province of the judges in this State were thus due less to the English practice than to the habits to which they themselves had become accustomed in administering the law of the Colonies.... "The colonists had had experience of

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the close connection of criminal law with politics.... (T)heir constant fear of political oppression through the criminal law led them and the generation following ... to give excessive power to juries and to limit or even cut off the power of the trial judge to control the trial and hold the jury to its province." (Id. at 101-02, 63 A.2d at 601-02 (quoting R. Pound, The Spirit of the Common Law 122-23).)

Accord, Jacobsohn, supra, 1976 Wash.U.L.Q. at 573-75. Because Article 23 was designed to curb the power of the judiciary, this Court has long held that if a trial judge should consider it necessary to instruct the jury as to the applicable criminal law, which since 1950 he may be required to do, Giles v. State, 229 Md. 370, 383-84, 183 A.2d 359, 365 (1962), appeal dismissed, 372 U.S. 767, 83 S.Ct. 1102, 10 L.Ed.2d 137 (1963), he should be careful not to intrude on the jury's prerogative, and thus must couch his instructions on the law in advisory form in order that jurors may "subject them to the test of their own...

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119 practice notes
  • State v. Stewart, No. 53
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 25, 2019
    ...is a "sound basis" for a dispute as to the law of the crime, all legal issues are for the judge alone to decide); Stevenson v. State, 289 Md. 167, 179-80 (1980) (same). 15. As this case illustrates, a court that applies the "factually inconsistent" versus "legally inconsistent" framework ma......
  • Calhoun v. State, Nos. 129
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • November 21, 1983
    ...necessary to sustain[468 A.2d 68] a conviction. It does not apply to the jury's role in a sentencing proceeding. See Stevenson v. State, 289 Md. 167, 423 A.2d 558 (1980)." In Stevenson the question before the Court was "whether Article 23 of the Declaration of Rights to the Maryland Constit......
  • Bodeau v. State, No. 1365, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 1, 2020
    ...was constitutionally infirm because the trial judge had given the jury improper "advisory only" instructions. See Stevenson v. State , 289 Md. 167, 180, 423 A.2d 558 (1980) (explaining that, under Article 23 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, the jury "is the final arbiter of disputes a......
  • State v. Moulden, No. 48
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • February 24, 1982
    ...jurors, was made known in open court before the first trial began. 8 Blanchfield v. Dennis, Md., 438 A.2d 1330 (1982); Stevenson v. State, 289 Md. 167, 189, 191, 423 A.2d 558, 570, 571 (1980) (dissenting opinion); Hunter v. State, 193 Md. 596, 604, 69 A.2d 505 (1949); Cohen v. State, 173 Md......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
119 cases
  • State v. Stewart, No. 53
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 25, 2019
    ...is a "sound basis" for a dispute as to the law of the crime, all legal issues are for the judge alone to decide); Stevenson v. State, 289 Md. 167, 179-80 (1980) (same). 15. As this case illustrates, a court that applies the "factually inconsistent" versus "legally inconsistent" framework ma......
  • Calhoun v. State, Nos. 129
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • November 21, 1983
    ...necessary to sustain[468 A.2d 68] a conviction. It does not apply to the jury's role in a sentencing proceeding. See Stevenson v. State, 289 Md. 167, 423 A.2d 558 (1980)." In Stevenson the question before the Court was "whether Article 23 of the Declaration of Rights to the Maryland Constit......
  • Bodeau v. State, No. 1365, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 1, 2020
    ...was constitutionally infirm because the trial judge had given the jury improper "advisory only" instructions. See Stevenson v. State , 289 Md. 167, 180, 423 A.2d 558 (1980) (explaining that, under Article 23 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, the jury "is the final arbiter of disputes a......
  • State v. Moulden, No. 48
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • February 24, 1982
    ...jurors, was made known in open court before the first trial began. 8 Blanchfield v. Dennis, Md., 438 A.2d 1330 (1982); Stevenson v. State, 289 Md. 167, 189, 191, 423 A.2d 558, 570, 571 (1980) (dissenting opinion); Hunter v. State, 193 Md. 596, 604, 69 A.2d 505 (1949); Cohen v. State, 173 Md......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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