Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

JUANITA WRIGHT v. STATE OF MARYLAND

Criminal procedure — Jury instructions — Supplemental instruction

In 2016, Juanita Wright, appellant, was an in-home caregiver for Edith Kearns, then age 92. Ms. Wright was charged in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County with financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, theft, counterfeiting a document, and issuing a counterfeit document stemming from her use of two credit cards and twenty-four personal checks belonging to Ms. Kearns. At trial, Ms. Wright did not dispute that she used the credit cards and checks for her own benefit. She argued, rather, that Ms. Kearns authorized her to use these instruments, making authorization a central issue of the case. During deliberations, the jury submitted a question to the trial court, asking: “[i]f a person signs another person’s name to a legal document, is this act breaking the Maryland state law?” In response, the court advised the jurors that they should “consult the jury instructions on the charged offenses and determine if [Ms. Wright] is guilty or not guilty of each charged offense.” The jury subsequently found Ms. Wright guilty of theft, counterfeiting a document, and issuing a counterfeit document. On appeal, Ms. Wright contends that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to provide the jury with a supplemental instruction clarifying that when a person signs another person’s name to a legal document with his or her authorization, it does not constitute counterfeiting or the issuance of a counterfeit document. She argues that because the jury’s question raised a central issue of the case, i.e. authorization, the court was required to respond in a way that clarified their confusion, not by directing the jury back to the original instructions which were silent on the issue of authorization. We …

Read the opinion.