Selecting the individual members of a jury for trial takes careful consideration in a Maryland personal injury case. In a June 3, 2019 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland examined whether the trial court erred by declining to ask prospective jury members a question about the effect of recent media coverage. The appeal arose out of an action filed by the plaintiff against a Baltimore City policy officer. The plaintiff alleged that he suffered personal injuries as a result of the officer’s excessive use of force. Following the trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him $130,000 in damages.
In April of 2015, Freddie Gray’s death sparked widespread protests in Baltimore. As a result of the civil unrest, a city-wide curfew was in effect. The plaintiff was out past curfew following the street demonstrations. The defendant saw the plaintiff run down a street and board a bus. Believing that the plaintiff had a gun, the defendant stopped the bus. The defendant removed the plaintiff from the bus. However, the plaintiff ultimately suffered a broken arm. The plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit against the officer.
Counsel for the defendant submitted questions for the court to ask potential jurors during the selection. The question at issue on appeal was whether anyone had obtained information from newspaper articles or other media sources regarding the Baltimore police department that would cause them to have a negative impression of the defendant. Although the court denied the request, several prospective jurors referenced the medical coverage of the Freddie Gray case. However, those jurors did not serve on the jury.
In Maryland, the process of jury selection is limited, as the sole purpose is to ensure a fair and impartial jury by determining the existence of a specific cause for disqualification. There are two types of questions suitable for uncovering such a cause: (1) questions designed to determine whether a prospective juror meets the minimum statutory qualifications for jury service, and (2) questions designed to determine a juror’s state of mind regarding any matter reasonably likely to have undue influence over him or her.
The appeals court concluded that the trial court did not err by refusing to ask the question proposed by the defendant. The court explained that other, similar questions were asked to determine whether any potential jurors were biased as a result of the media coverage of the Baltimore police. The court also noted that those questions effectively led to the removal of several jurors for cause. Accordingly, the appeals court found that the trial judge did not abuse its discretion and affirmed the judgment in favor of the plaintiff.
The Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. can provide legal representation to plaintiffs seeking compensation after an accident. We work tirelessly on behalf of victims of medical malpractice, auto and truck collisions, premises liability accidents, and other negligence. If you have questions concerning a personal injury or wrongful death claim, request a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable lawyers. We are available by phone at (301) 441-2022 or online.