Citizenship question haunts Howard court

Steps taken to avoid potential mistrials

July 02, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Three weeks after a Howard County murder verdict was thrown into question by a juror's lack of U.S. citizenship, court officials and a state legislator say they are working to make sure the scenario is not repeated.

Jury Commissioner Steve Merson has begun reviewing basic requirements for jury service during his morning talk to prospective jurors.

At least one Howard prosecutor has added qualification inquiries to questions she wants judges to ask during voir dire, the process of interviewing prospective jurors in a courtroom.

Also, a state delegate said he is talking to state transportation officials -- who supply part of the list from which counties draw jurors -- about adding a citizenship query and proof of citizenship requirement to the application for drivers' licenses and identification cards.

"I think we all have a heightened sense of awareness," said Howard Deputy State's Attorney Dario Broccolino.

Under Maryland law, a juror must be "constitutionally qualified to vote," and voter registration requires U.S. citizenship. But Adeyemi Alade, who was part of the jury panel that convicted Marcus D. Owens, 33, of second-degree murder and related charges in the beating death of his 2-year-old stepson, said he "missed" references to citizenship on a juror questionnaire. No one mentioned the requirement when he arrived for jury service, he said.

Alade, a resident alien from Nigeria, checked that he was "qualified" to serve and did not check the "I am not a citizen" question on his form, which was sent to him weeks before the trial, court officials said.

It wasn't until after the verdict June 10 that Alade, a master's candidate in mechanical engineering at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said he learned from a colleague at school that his status as a resident alien might be an issue and called Merson's office. His call has sparked a request from Owens' lawyer for a new trial.

The issue is scheduled for a hearing July 16 before Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure.

Howard County has been drawing potential jurors from the state Motor Vehicle Administration database, which includes noncitizens, since 1995. State law required use of the MVA database -- in addition to the voter registration rolls historically used by municipalities -- as a source for jurors beginning in 2001.

Also, while jury commissioners have called previously for the MVA to differentiate between citizens and noncitizens on lists it sends to counties, the agency does not ask license applicants about their citizenship, said MVA spokesman Buel C. Young.

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican who has also pushed for a law requiring proof of citizenship during voter registration, said asking the question will help "maintain the integrity" of the jury pool.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.