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Right to Adequate Time

“Many trial judges are developing ingenious plans to limit the time of jury selection in order to expedite cases and increase the case count for an individual circuit. These judges are conscientious and well meaning, but are allowing the disposition of cases to become more important than the administration of justice. Unfortunately we contribute to this problem by demanding speedy trials and quick determinations so that the trial docket will flow as steadily as the crowds through Disney world. But the courts are not businesses opened for the sale of merchandise or services.  In the trial of a case the jury selection and voir dire examination are just as critical to the outcome as the presentation of the evidence…. The change of a single juror in the composition of the jury could change the result…. The Latin phrase found in the seal of this court ‘SAT CITO SI RECTE’, has a literal translation of ‘sufficiently quickly if rightly.’ A smoother translation is that justice is ‘soon enough if correct.’ I subscribe to this principle.”  Ter Keurst v. Miami Elevator Company, 486 So. 2d 547 (Fla. 1986) (Adkins, J. dissenting). 

“The necessity of dispatching the work of the court and shortening the time of trial should not be accorded greater importance than the necessity for procuring an unbiased and impartial jury to try the issues of the case.” Barker v. Randolph, 239 So. 2d 110 (Fla 1 DCA 1970). 

It is an abuse of discretion for the trial judge to impose arbitrary time limits or number-of-question limits on voir dire. Carver v. Niedermayer, 920 So2d 123 (Fla 4th DCA 2006); Miller v. State, 785 So2d 662 (Fla 3 DCA 2001). Trial counsel is entitled to a reasonable time to question the venire to ascertain latent or concealed prejudgments by prospective jurors, and in order to determine whether a particular juror should be the subject of either a challenge for cause or a peremptory challenge. Campbell v. State, 812 So2d 540 (Fla 4th DCA 2002).

The fact that the trial judge has conducted an examination of the jurors before turning over the questioning to counsel does not, in and of itself, justify time limits or number-of question limits on counsel’s voir dire. Carver v. Niedermayer, supra.

If the court decides to impose time limits, counsel is entitled to “reasonable notice” of the time constraints so that they can pace their questioning as they see fit. Thus, it was reversible error for the court to suddenly impose a “ten more minutes” limit in the midst of voir dire when no prior time limits had been announced. Roberts v. State, 937 So2d 781 (Fla 2DCA 2006).

Reversible error occurred in Somerville v. Ahuja, 902 So2d 930 (Fla 5th DCA 2005) because the trial judge was “concerned that it was taking too much time to pick a jury.” Due to the judge’s “rush to pick a jury” the judge forgot what some of the jurors had said, and refused to take the time to have the court reporter read back some of the voir dire.

In the following cases, the trial judge was reversed for imposing arbitrary and inadequate time limits on trial counsel’s voir dire:

Carver v. Niedermayer, 920 So2d 123 (Fla 4th DCA 2006) – limit of 45 minutes for 19 jurors an abuse of discretion even though trial judge had already conducted preliminary questioning.

White v. State, 717 So2d 1055 (Fla 3d DCA 1998) – limit of 31 minutes for voir dire examination abuse of discretion.

O’Hara v. State, 642 So2d 592 (Fla 4th DCA 1994) – limit of 40 minutes for 24 jurors abuse of discretion.

Cohn v. Julien, 574 So2d 1202 (Fla 3d DCA 1991) – limit of 15 minutes in medical malpractice case an abuse of discretion.

Knapp v. Shores, 550 So2d 1155 (Fla 3d DCA 1989) – limit of 15 minutes in auto accident case an abuse of discretion.

Gosha v. State, 534 So2d 912 (Fla 3d DCA 1988) – limit of 1 to 3 minutes for each juror an abuse of discretion.