What Happens When A Potential Juror Assumes I’m Guilty?
The presumption of innocence is the bedrock of the American criminal justice system. All persons accused of a crime are innocent unless they are found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” by a jury of their peers. Jurors themselves must not enter a trial with any assumptions regarding the defendant’s guilt. Their ultimate verdict must solely reflect the evidence presented.
Florida Appeals Court Tosses Murder Conviction Over Improper Handling of Juror Challenges
So what happens when an individual with a closed mind manages to get onto a jury? The Florida Third District Court of Appeal recently addressed such a situation. In Wright v. State, prosecutors charged the defendant with first-degree murder, armed robbery, and burglary.
During jury selection, the defendant’s attorney asked one prospective juror, “So can a completely innocent person be wrongfully accused of a crime?” The juror replied, “No.” The attorney asked for confirmation. The juror shook her head, indicating she did not believe an innocent person could be accused of a crime.
Later on in the selection process, the defense attorney asked all of the prospective jurors to raise their hand if they agreed with the statement, “If you think I am innocent and I am wrongfully accused of a crime, I will absolutely take the stand and testify on my behalf.” A handful of jurors, including the juror mentioned in the previous paragraph, raised their hands.
Under Florida law, a defendant has the right to exclude a certain number of prospective jurors from the final jury. These are known as “peremptory challenges.” The court may separately exclude a juror upon either side’s request “for cause.” In this case, the defense moved to exclude this particular juror for cause. When the judge declined to do so, the defense exercised one of its peremptory challenges. But this meant the defendant was unable to exclude another juror later in the selection process. The seated jury ultimately convicted the defendant on all charges.
On appeal, the Third District agreed with the defendant that the trial court should have excluded the challenged juror “for cause,” without forcing the defense to use one of its peremptory challenges. The appellate court noted the juror’s responses to the defense’s questions “when taken at face value, raise concerns about her ability to serve as an impartial juror.” While this may have “may have reflected only a temporary confusion and misunderstanding of the law,” there was no effort made by either the judge or the prosecutor to “rehabilitate” the juror. As such, the Third District said the defendant was entitled to a new trial.
Contact Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today
A good defense attorney can not only spot potentially problematic jurors. They can also ensure that if the courts do not follow the rules, you will have ample grounds to appeal an improper conviction. So if you are facing charges and need representation from an experienced Orlando murder defense lawyer, contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.