Charles County, Maryland Sheriff Rex Coffey recently told citizens at a community meeting that if they ever had a chance to serve on a criminal jury, they should find the defendant guilty every time.
While this Sheriff’s statements are an extreme example of the type of difficulties a Maryland criminal defendant may have in obtaining an unbiased jury at trial, there are many factors that can influence the perspectives of prospective jurors long before they are called to jury duty. Our Maryland criminal defense attorneys are experienced at selecting jurors that will provide our clients the best opportunities at trial.
Sheriff Coffey told the attendees that, “when you get the opportunity to serve on a jury in Charles County, listen to the evidence and then find them guilty.”
He was not concerned about wrongful convictions – at least not in his jurisdiction: “That crap don’t happen in Charles County. It’s real simple — if we don’t think you’re guilty we don’t arrest you to begin with.”
Notably with regard to his point on the subject of the relationship between guilt and an arrest, Coffey undermined his own argument for the jury to convict every time when he acknowledged that it only requires probable cause to arrest an individual. He is correct to state that probable cause is required to arrest someone, but he is flat out wrong when he equates the standards for arrest with the standards for conviction. For a jury to find an individual guilty of a charge that the State has brought, the jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt – a much higher standard.
Continuing, Coffey even went so far as to say that anyone who testifies or argues that someone is not guilty is lying:
We don’t just arrest people who are innocent. It’s probable cause it’s a lot more than that. I can’t say it enough: You get in that courtroom and those defense attorneys start giving you this crap about how this person’s innocent and never been before the court before … and for some reason the only ones not allowed to lie is the police officer. Everyone else is in there lying.You see the stupid stuff that goes on. He [a defendant] had his whole family come in and lie for him. We told the truth and the jury says not guilty.
He concluded, “When you get a chance to convict someone, do it! Do it! Because I’m telling you jail is a lot nicer than it ought to be,” Coffey said.
Sheriff Coffey’s comments are directly opposed to the protections that all criminal defendants are provided, both under the Maryland Declaration of Rights and the United States Constitution. As the Sixth Amendment provides,
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed . . . .
Similarly, the Maryland Declaration of Rights, as part of the Constitution of Maryland, provides language that shows Coffey’s error in even more elegant language:
Article 20: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.
Article 21: That in all criminal prosecutions, every man hath a right . . . to a speedy trial by an impartial jury, without whose unanimous consent he ought not to be found guilty.
Article 23: In the trial of all criminal cases, the Jury shall be the Judges of Law, as well as of fact . . .
His words also could undermine a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial, in that not only was he speaking to a group of individuals who were potential Charles County jurors, but his opinion was published in the local newspaper. As a respected official elected specifically for the purpose of handling crime in Charles County, Sheriff Coffey’s misleading statements about what to do with those people that his office arrests could carry a lot of weight with an individual called upon to act as an impartial juror. That juror, who very well may have voted for Sheriff Coffey, will inevitably weigh Coffey’s inaccurate statements when judging the credibility of one of his subordinate officers, or when determining the defendant’s guilt or innocence. To preserve your right to a fair trial, contact an attorney experienced in leveling the playing field in the courtroom.