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After two-and-a-half years of working its way through the Baltimore City judicial system, the attempted homicide case of 17-year-old Laronte Collins was set to move forward with a jury trial on Nov. 1. This process and, in turn, Collins’ day in court was abruptly cut short when there were not enough jurors available to empanel a 12-person jury.
An apparent juror shortage has become increasingly problematic in the Baltimore City Circuit Court, impacting six homicide and non-fatal shooting trials within a two-month period.
Since Sept. 1, four homicide trials and two attempted murder trials have either been delayed or rescheduled due to a lack of jurors available for selection, including four cases in September, one in August and another in November.
The third week of September proved particularly challenging for judges and attorneys. On Sept. 19, seven homicide or non-fatal shooting cases were scheduled for jury selection. Although one of the homicide cases concluded with a plea agreement, three of these homicide cases were postponed.
Among the four other cases either beginning or continuing jury selection from the previous day, homicide defendant Nizah Daniels’ was the only case to proceed with jury selection that morning. The case of attempted homicide defendant Reginald Allen was forced to push jury selection to the afternoon, while jury selection for homicide defendant Dana Davenport had to begin the next day.
Homicide defendant Shakira Shaw’s proceeding continued jury selection from Sept. 18 and entered its third day of jury selection on Sept. 20 when the jury office ran out of jurors on Sept. 19.
In June 2019, Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks wrote in his blog that he contacted the Maryland Judiciary’s public information officer, Terri Charles, regarding jury summons. Charles said the jury office determines the number of jurors called each day “based on the anticipated caseload and the number of cases that may require a jury panel each day.”
Charles also informed Rodricks that “the court does not release additional jury information” when asked about the number of jurors who reported for jury duty on a specific day.
The Maryland Judiciary has yet to provide information requested by Baltimore Witness regarding this ongoing issue. According to the court’s jury plan, jurors are selected at random from Baltimore City’s adult residents on the state’s voter registration list and those with Motor Vehicle Administration driver’s licenses and identification cards.
In each of the six cases reviewed by Baltimore Witness, judges and attorneys took different approaches in an attempt to keep the trials on schedule. The first plan is resuming jury selection in the afternoon once jurors are dismissed in other cases. Jurors are then required to return to the jury office where they’re subject for another round of selection.
Two cases successfully moved forward this way, but two additional cases were pushed back until the following day when a new set of jurors reported for duty. Another case started jury selection but was unable to continue until the next day as there were still not enough jurors available by the afternoon.
According to assistant state’s attorney Megan Gallo, the number of jurors necessary for counsel to begin jury selection varies given the charges against the defendant and the number of strikes allotted to the prosecution and defense. A larger panel is required for defendants facing homicide, non-fatal shootings or first-degree rape charges, she explained, which carry a life sentence.
“Any [charge] where the top counts carries the penalty of life, the defense gets 20 strikes and the [prosecution] gets 10,” Gallo said. “We generally will call for about 90 jurors to start with when it’s just one defendant [charged] with homicide.”
However, if there are multiple defendants in a single case, each defendant receives 20 strikes and the prosecution receives 20 strikes, requiring a jury panel of approximately 150 people.
“You generally need about 50 jurors who qualify and who you can even pick from before you start selecting,” Gallo said.
Unlike the aforementioned cases that experienced delayed jury selection, Collins’ defense counsel, Brandon Taylor, and the prosecuting attorney encountered what many dread: a rescheduled trial date.
Recently retired, now senior judge, Judge Charles J. Peters was set to preside over the Baltimore teen’s trial earlier this month. Yet, on the first day of scheduled jury selection, no jurors were available and the process was pushed to the following day.
An unexpected courthouse closure thwarted counsels’ efforts to select a jury, once more, when the city’s Sheriff’s Office evacuated the building around 10:30 a.m. due to the delivery of “a suspicious package.”
Court resumed around noon, but with time passed, limited jurors and progress minimal, the attorneys requested a postponement. Collins and counsel returned to reception court on Nov. 6 when his case was rescheduled for March 21, 2024, as a runner-up should a specially-set case before it not move forward.
According to previous Baltimore Witness reports and the Maryland Judiciary website, Collins’ case has already encountered multiple delays just this year.
In January, counsel in Collins’ case could not schedule a trial date because his former defense attorney, Brian Levy, departed the Youth Offenders Office. The case returned to reception court a month later and scheduled the teen’s trial, despite the Office of Public Defenders still processing the reassignment of his case.
Collins’ June trial date also came and went, but was further delayed for reasons unknown to Baltimore Witness.
Baltimore Witness began tracking the jury selection process in 2023. The only outlier from recent months is a lone attempted murder case from July that was delayed one day.Notifications are not yet available for this specific case. Please check back later for updates. Thank you.