Trotman v. State, 101819 MDCA, 8-2019

Docket Nº:8-2019
Opinion Judge:WATTS, J.
Party Name:DANNY TROTMAN v. STATE OF MARYLAND
Judge Panel:Barbera, C.J. McDonald Watts Hotten Getty Booth Adkins, Sally D. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.
Case Date:October 18, 2019
Court:Court of Appeals of Maryland
 
FREE EXCERPT

DANNY TROTMAN

v.

STATE OF MARYLAND

No. 8-2019

Court of Appeals of Maryland

October 18, 2019

Argued: September 9, 2019

Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 115236022

Barbera, C.J. McDonald Watts Hotten Getty Booth Adkins, Sally D. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION

WATTS, J.

It is well-established that having the opportunity to participate in jury service is both a right and a responsibility. As Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. (1974, 2013 Repl. Vol., 2016 Supp.) ("CJ") § 8-102(a) states, "[e]ach adult citizen of this State has: (1) The opportunity for jury service; and (2) When summoned for jury service, the duty to serve." (Paragraph breaks omitted).

It is equally well-established that "[a] citizen may not be excluded from jury service due to color, disability, economic status, national origin, race, religion, or sex." CJ § 8-102(b) (emphasis added). Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 to 12213, generally, "no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in . . . the . . . activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." 42 U.S.C. § 12132. And, CJ § 8-103(b)(3) states in pertinent part: "[S]ubject to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, an individual is not qualified for jury service if the individual . . . [h]as a disability that, as documented by a health care provider's certification, prevents the individual from providing satisfactory jury service[.]" "The [Maryland] Judiciary is committed to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including through providing prospective jurors with an equal opportunity to participate in jury service." Maryland Judiciary, Jury Service: Notice: [Americans with Disabilities Act] Compliance, https://

www.mdcourts.gov/juryservice/noticeada [https://perma.cc/TJY2-LWEZ].

This case involves the unfortunate circumstance that in a courthouse in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City a staircase with twenty-five steps was the only way to reach the jury room that accompanied the courtroom that was used for the trial in this case. We must decide whether the trial court abused its discretion in excusing for cause four prospective jurors who said that they would have difficulty using1 or were unable to use stairs.

The State, Respondent, charged Sergeant Danny Trotman, Petitioner, a correctional officer of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, with second-degree assault, conspiracy to commit second-degree assault, and misconduct in office. At the start of trial, before the jury panel entered the courtroom, four prospective jurors disclosed to the Jury Commissioner's Office that they would either have difficulty using or be unable to use stairs, and the Jury Commissioner's Office gave that information to the circuit court. The circuit court separately called each of the four prospective jurors to the bench. In each instance, first, the circuit court expressly confirmed that the prospective juror was unable to use stairs; then, the circuit court informed the prospective juror that a staircase with twenty-five steps was the only way to reach the jury room. Ultimately, the circuit court excused the four prospective jurors for cause and directed them to return to the jury assembly room to be available for participation as jurors in another trial. Trotman's counsel objected to the circuit court excusing the four prospective jurors for cause and requested that the circuit court conduct the trial in another courtroom. The circuit court responded that no other courtroom was available, and trial proceeded in the assigned courtroom. The jury found Trotman guilty of two charges. Trotman appealed, and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed. Trotman filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which this Court granted.

Before us, Trotman contends that the circuit court erred in excusing for cause the four prospective jurors who indicated that they were unable to use stairs. Trotman argues that the circuit court failed to properly exercise its discretion to excuse for cause the four prospective jurors at issue, as it failed to consider potential options for accommodating them. The State responds that, although prospective jurors with disabilities cannot be excluded from jury service across the board, on a case-by-case basis, a trial court may excuse a prospective juror with a disability if the disability would interfere with the performance of the prospective juror's duties.

Guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Maryland statutes that govern jury service, and relevant case law, we hold that a trial court may not summarily excuse for cause prospective jurors with disabilities; instead, a trial court may excuse a prospective juror for cause on a disability-related ground if no reasonable accommodation is possible, and, at that particular trial, the particular disability would prevent the prospective juror from providing satisfactory jury service. Applying our holding to this case's circumstances, we conclude that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in excusing for cause the four prospective jurors who indicated they would be unable to use the stairs to the jury room.

BACKGROUND

Jury Selection

On the first day of trial, shortly after the jury panel entered the courtroom, during a bench conference, the circuit court stated: [Juror 3762 is unable to use stairs. So she can't be on this jury because there are [twenty-five step]s to the jury room. So I'm going to strike her for cause. . . . [M]aybe I [had] better check with these [prospective jurors] to make sure [that] they're telling the truth. . . . [Juror] 408 also says [that s]he can't do stairs. . . . I'm not going to strike. I'm going to talk to them. . . . [Juror] 624 also says [that] she can't do stairs.

After the circuit court called roll, the following exchanges occurred:

THE COURT: May I see Juror [] 376 at the bench with [c]ounsel?

* * *

THE COURT: [Juror 376], I understand from the Jury Commissioner's Office that you have difficulty doing stairs, is that correct?

[JUROR 376]: Yes.

THE COURT: There are [twenty-five] steps to the jury room, so I'm going to excuse you from serving on this jury because you're unable to do the stairs. Okay?

[JUROR 376]: Okay.

THE COURT: So you should go back to the jury assembly room now.

[JUROR 376]: Okay. Now, in the future, I don't feel that I -- I have the ability to -- I know that you don't want to discriminate against me --

THE COURT: Correct.

[JUROR 376]: But I feel that[, ] in serving on the jury[, ] you need to use your visual cues as well as, you know, the evidence and everything --

THE COURT: Well, and you would let the [j]udge know that. Not every person who's blind feels that way.

[JUROR 376]: Okay.

THE COURT: But you would just[ --] the [j]udge will always ask you if there's anything else, if there's any other reason why you shouldn't serve as [a] jur[or]. You can tell them that. Okay?

[JUROR 376]: Okay. All right.

THE COURT: You can go back now to [the jury assembly room], where you were at.

[JUROR 376]: Where I was at?

THE COURT: Where you were at.

[JUROR 376]: Thank you.

THE COURT: May I see Juror [] 408[, ] please?

** *

THE COURT: [Juror 408], you told the Jury [Commissioner's] Office that you were unable to do [stair]s. There are [twenty-five] steps to the jury room in this courtroom. Will you be able to do those?

[JUROR 408]: I have hard time going across the street.

THE COURT: No? Okay. Well, for that reason[ --] there are courtrooms that are on the same level, but this is not one of them. So I'm going to excuse you and ask you to go back to the jury assembly room.

[JUROR 408]: Okay. All right. Thank you.

THE COURT: May I see Juror [] 624?

** *

THE COURT: I understand that you're unable to do steps, is that correct?

[JUROR 624]: Yes.

THE COURT: There's [twenty-five] steps to the jury room in this courtroom, so are you telling me that you don't think you can do [twenty-five] steps?

[JUROR 624]: No. Do you have[ --] is there an elevator? I can do that.

THE COURT: We don't have an elevator. You [would] have to walk up and down the steps. Up and down the steps.

[JUROR 624]: No. No.

THE COURT: So I'm going to excuse you from serving on this jury. All right?

[JUROR 624]: Okay. Thank you.

THE COURT: So you're excused now. They do have courtrooms on the same level, so there are no steps involved.

[JUROR 624]: Okay.

THE COURT: So you may be selected for one of them, so you're free to go back.

...

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