Trial Judge Reversed Due to Arbitrary Time Limits on Jury Selection

August 17, 2017

A first-degree murder conviction was reversed last month due to the trial court imposing arbitrary time limits during jury selection. In Hopkins v. State, 2017 WL 2983284 (Fla. 4th DCA, July 12, 2017), the trial court advised counsel, for the first time at the beginning of trial, that each side would be limited to three hours for voir dire to question the venire of fifty jurors. This equated to approximately 3.6 minutes to speak to each juror. Defendant objected and the court overruled his objection. At the conclusion of Defendant’s three-hour voir dire he requested additional time and the trial court again denied his request. The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed stating, “[g]iven the large jury pool and the very few minutes the 3-hour time permitted counsel with each juror, the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to grant a few additional minutes, where there were jurors whom defense counsel could not reach within the allotted time for voir dire.”

The Court also interjected an interesting and novel new concept regarding how the severity of the case may influence how much time attorneys are allocated for jury selection. The Court distinguished its holding in Anderson v. State, 739 So. 2d 642 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999) where it upheld a thirty-minute time limitation on voir dire and reasoned that Mr. Hopkin’s case was unlike Mr. Anderson’s case because of the difference in the severity of the two crimes. (“Unlike the less severe grand theft charge in Anderson, the charged offense in this case was first-degree murder with a firearm.”).

Additionally, the Court also addressed how the Defense attorney properly preserved the record for cause challenges. At the conclusion of voir dire, Defense counsel moved to strike two jurors who expressed ambivalence about their ability to follow the law and the trial court denied the motions. Counsel then used two peremptory challenges on those jurors and requested two additional peremptory challenges to strike other objectionable jurors and the trial court again denied his requests. Finally, Defense counsel not only repeated for the record and identified exactly which juror he would have used a peremptory strike on, but also qualified his acceptance of the panel based on his anticipated peremptory challenges. Due to the trial court’s errors, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the case for a new trial.

Thus, the takeaway from this case is twofold. First, it is essential that you know and completely understand the law on imposing arbitrary time limitations on jury selection. Second, in order to preserve your record on appeal, you must properly follow procedure and timely and repeatedly make clear objections on the record.

(This post was prepared by Kimberly L. Wald, Esq. For more information, please contact Kim at klw@kulaw.com or 954-522-6601).

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