Juror Doubting Own Ability = An Easy Strike

September 14, 2007

During jury selection a potential juror stated she “did not think she could focus on the trial.” Both sides agreed she should be stricken for cause. But the trial judge refused to strike her, and she ended up on the jury. (This alone would probably have resulted in a quick reversal of any verdict). However, after the first day of testimony, the woman raised her hand (she obviously REALLY didn’t want to be there) and told the judge she lived near the store where the incident occurred. She said she disagreed with the police officer’s testimony about which direction the store faced. She said her independent knowledge about the store made her distrust the testimony of the officer, and she no longer thought she could be fair and impartial. The judge then dismissed her from the jury (saving the almost certain reversal) and seated an alternate in her place. On appeal, the Fifth District affirmed the trial judge’s actions, and held it was not error to remove the juror from the jury. The Court held that the juror’s “own expressions of doubt about her ability to decide the case impartially easily provided a reasonable doubt about her ability to decide the case solely on the evidence,” and therefore justified her removal from the case. Lowry v. State, 963 So. 2d 321 (Fla 5th DCA 2007).

This case demonstrates, once again, the problems that can arise when judges attempt to keep jurors who are trying to get out of serving on a case. It is a frustrating and all-too-common reality of voir dire. However, this issue was squarely addressed in a recent decision from the Fourth District. “We recognize that, here, the trial court and the appellees’ counsel may well have been right in surmising that the juror really ‘did not want to be there’ and ‘wanted off this jury.’ But, close issues as to juror bias are resolved in favor of excusing the juror, rather than leaving a doubt.” See, Four Wood Consulting, LLC v. Fyne, 981 So2d 2 (Fla 4th DCA 2007).

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