Court Overturns Conviction Over Voir Dire Process Error

OCEAN CITY – A state appeals court has reversed last year’s burglary conviction of an Ocean City man.

In February 2019, Robert Auble, now 48, was found guilty of fourth-degree burglary and rogue and vagabond after breaking into a downtown residence in July 2018 and was sentenced to three years in prison. Auble appealed the convictions on the grounds the trial court did not ask an important voir dire question of the potential jurors regarding the presumption of his innocence prior to the trial.

Potential jurors are typically asked a battery of questions, or voir dire, prior to their selection to sit on a case and stand in judgment of a defendant. Auble asserted in his appeal the trial court did not ask the jury pool an essential question. Last week, the Court of Special Appeals agreed and reversed Auble’s conviction, remanding the case back to Worcester County Circuit Court for a new trial.

Around 3:20 a.m. on July 19, 2018, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers responded to a reported burglary at a residence on Talbot Street. Responding officers were flagged down by the resident who told police someone had just broken into her unit. The victim told police she was awakened by her mother yelling at the suspect in the living room.

According to police reports, the victim screamed at the suspect, later identified as Auble, to get out and Auble did eventually leave the unit. The victim then realized her iPhone was missing along with her driver’s license, credit cards and around $70 in cash, which were stored in the phone case.

Using the “Find my iPhone” app, OCPD officers were able to track the missing phone to a location on Dorchester Street. A woman told police she found the phone lying on the sidewalk in front of a nearby restaurant and set it on a bench in front of the Dorchester Street fire station. Through previous encounters, OCPD officers knew Auble lived in an apartment over the restaurant where the stolen phone was located. The phone and its contents were returned to the victim, but the cash was not located. Auble was arrested and charged with first-degree burglary and theft.

On appeal, Auble asked the Court of Special Appeals to consider a mistrial because the trial court failed to ask potential jurors a critical question regarding the presumption of his innocence.

“You must presume the defendant innocent of the charges now and throughout this trial unless and until, after you have seen and heard all of the evidence, the state convinces you of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the requested question reads. “If you do not consider the defendant innocent now, or if you are not sure that you will require the state to convince you of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, please stand.”

Citing case law, including a landmark Kazadi v. State case during which similar questions were raised, the Court of Special Appeals last week agreed and vacated Auble’s convictions.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.