- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

Circuit Court officials in Howard County, Maryland, today will consider whether a noncitizen’s serving as a juror invalidates the verdict of a man convicted last week of killing his 2-year-old son.

“[The juror] contacted me after the verdict and indicated that he is not a citizen,” said Jury Commissioner Steven T. Merson, who oversees juries and jury pools for the Maryland county.

Howard County authorities would not identify the juror or divulge whether he is an illegal immigrant.

“We are not going to do anything to [the juror],” Mr. Merson said. “We just want to get on the record that he is a noncitizen. We are more worried about the trial than his status.”

Citizenship is a requirement for being a juror or a voter, but not for obtaining a driver’s license. Jury pools are drawn from voter rolls and driver’s license registrations.

This is the first time in Maryland that a verdict has been jeopardized because a juror was not a citizen, Mr. Merson said. Court officers distribute affidavits to all potential jurors asking whether they are citizens, and the juror indicated that he was, the jury commissioner said.

“I think it was inadvertent,” Mr. Merson said. “I think he went back to work and was talking about the case and one of his colleagues asked, ‘How did you get on the jury, because you are not even a citizen?’ And that is when he called me.”

This morning, Howard County Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure will hold hearing on the matter. Judge Leasure, without elaborating, said she aims to determine whether “an issue does exist” and how it affects the guilty verdict in the trial of Marcus D. Owens.

Last week, Owens, 33, of Columbia, was convicted of second-degree murder, child abuse and assault in the July 30 fatal beating of his 2-year-old stepson, Kevonte Davis.

The day after the jury rendered its verdict, the noncitizen juror came forward, Mr. Merson said.

“I wonder what action Howard County officials are going to take to protect their court system to make sure this is not going to happen again?” said Delegate Pat McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican who has sought tougher laws on illegal immigration.

It takes a unanimous vote of 12 jurors to convict someone of a crime, and when one is not qualified to serve, that leaves 11 jurors, said law professor Abraham A. Dash of the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

“An illegal jury could not reach a verdict,” he said. “I don’t see any way they can get around it.”

Defense attorneys said the remedy is obvious — a new trial. Deputy Public Defender Louis P. Willemin, one of Owens’ attorneys, said today’s hearing is for fact-finding and “the rest will happen later.”

A spokesman for state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said the law is clear, but declined to get involved.

“We believe this matter is to be handled by the Howard County officials,” Curran spokesman Kevin J. Enright said. “It is a judicial issue.”

In October, Mr. Curran told the Motor Vehicle Administration that it must issue driver’s licenses to immigrants even if they cannot “prove [their] lawful presence” in the United States. He also said the agency may use immigration documents to verify identity “when other satisfactory identification is unavailable.”

California and Georgia have had a few cases in which illegal aliens have ended up on juries, Howard County officials said.

“There are consequences to ignoring the fact that we have illegals in this country,” Mr. McDonough said. “I am predicting we are going to keep seeing these kinds of stories. They are not going to go away.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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