COA: Trial court harmlessly erred in denying direct questioning of prospective jurors

A St. Joseph County man convicted of involuntary slaughter for a drug deal gone wrong should have been permitted to directly question prospective jurors, but that error was ultimately harmless, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled.

In April 2019, Kyle Doroszko agreed to sell two ounces of marijuana to Jeremiah Williams. They met in the parking lot of a South Bend bar where things ultimately went awry.

Williams and Trayvon Taylor, accompanied by two other men, had conspired to rob Doroszko during the meeting. Meanwhile, Doroszko and Bilal Dedic arrived at the meeting place armed.

Once everyone was at the meeting spot, Williams and Taylor got into the back seat of Dedic’s car; but Williams quickly left the vehicle. Dedic then saw the other two men running towards his car with guns, so he started driving away with Doroszko and Taylor still in the car and the rear passenger door open.

There was a scuffle in the back seat and Doroszko fatally shot Taylor three times, who eventually fell out of the open door when Dedic swerved. Taylor later died from his gunshot wounds.

A few days later, police officers appeared at Doroszko’s house with weapons drawn and told Doroszko that he needed to come talk about the shooting. They also said that Doroszko and Dedic “were probably the victims in this thing.”

Later, during an interview at the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit, Doroszko was read his Miranda rights and signed a “Warning and Waiver Advisement As to Rights” form. When Doroszko eventually admitted that he shot Taylor, he was charged with murder with an enhancement for allegedly committing the offenses with a firearm.

During a pre-trial hearing, the St. Joseph Superior Court informed the parties that it “ask[s] the voir dire” but that it would “welcome” the parties to submit their own jury questions to the court. It also informed the parties that they would not be able to directly question the jury.

Doroszko unsuccessfully filed a motion objecting to the court’s voir dire procedure. He was ultimately found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and waived his right to a jury trial on the firearm enhancement. Doroszko was sentenced to an aggregate 15 ½ years in prison with three years suspended.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed in Kyle N. Doroszko v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1645, finding that although the trial court erred by not allowing Doroszko or his attorney to question the prospective jurors, the error was harmless.

Addressing his voir dire argument, the appellate court likened Doroszko’s case to Logan v. State, 729 N.E.2d 125, 133 (Ind. 2000).

“Doroszko does not indicate what questions he would have asked had he been allowed to directly question the prospective jurors,” Judge Edward Najam wrote. “Further, he has failed to show that the court’s procedure adversely affected his ability to exercise his peremptory challenges. And he does not allege that any specific juror should have been removed but was not.

“We conclude that Doroszko has not shown that he was prejudiced by the court’s voir dire procedure,” Najam continued. “As such, while the court erred by not permitting Doroszko or his attorney to directly question the prospective jurors, that error was harmless.”

As to his confession, the appellate court noted that police deception does not necessarily render a confession inadmissible. Rather, it’s just one factor to consider in the totality of the circumstances.

“Here, under the totality of the circumstances, we cannot say that the statement by Commander (Michael) Grzegorek, which he made at a different location and several hours prior to Doroszko’s interview at MHU, overbore Doroszko’s free will such that his statement was involuntary,” the court concluded. “We therefore affirm the court’s admission of Doroszo’s confession as evidence.”

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