Even Where Prosecution Conceded Error Warranting New Trials for Two Convicted in Killing of Locust Point Bartender, Maryland Court of Special Appeals Denies New Trial for Co-Defendant Whose Counsel Failed to Object to Court Error

In a consolidated opinion issued on August 3, 2020, resolving Tonya Hayes v. State of Maryland and Marquese Winston v. State of Maryland, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ordered a new trial for Mr. Winston due to the circuit court’s failure to ask voir dire questions of prospective jurors before the trial began about the state’s burden of proof and the defendant’s right not to testify. On the same issue, however, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed co-defendant Hayes’ conviction and denied her relief because, although the circuit court’s error affected her trial as well, her trial counsel failed to object to the error.

After the Maryland Court of Appeals issued its decision in Kazadi v. State in January 2020, while the Hayes and Winston cases were pending before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the State conceded that Kazadi required new trials for both Ms. Hayes and Mr. Winston because Kazadi dealt with the same jury voir dire issue raised in this case. In accordance with the State’s concession, in granting relief to Mr. Winston, the Court of Special Appeals explained that the Court of Appeals decision in Kazadi was determinative of Mr. Winston’s issue because it explicitly held that, on request, a trial court must ask prospective jurors voir dire questions related to the fundamental principles of the presumption of innocence, the State’s burden of proof, and the defendant’s right not to testify. The failure of a trial court to ask such questions upon request is an abuse of discretion. In holding that relief was not warranted for Ms. Hayes despite the circuit court’s error and the State’s concession of the error, however, the Court of Special Appeals explained that an appellate court is not bound by a party’s erroneous concession of error on a legal issue. It was the opinion of the Court of Special Appeals that the State had incorrectly conceded that Ms. Hayes’ counsel preserved this error for appellate review because in conducting its own review of the record, the Court of Special Appeals found no indication that Ms. Hayes’ trial counsel joined in Mr. Winston’s counsel’s objection. As a result, the Court of Special Appeals refused to grant relief to Ms. Hayes, because as to her, the issue was not preserved for review on appeal, and therefore it did not have the ability to grant her relief.

Follow the link: https://www.courts.state.md.us/data/opinions/cosa/2020/0500s19.pdf for the full opinion from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Nathans & Biddle LLP is a highly respected advocate for individuals and businesses involved in a broad spectrum of white-collar criminal and civil disputes, forfeitures, and attorney grievance matters. With offices in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Greenbelt, we represent clients across Maryland (both federal and state courts), the Washington D.C. area, and several other federal courts across the country.

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