“I don’t believe in the jury system”

May 12, 2015

During jury selection in a car accident case, a prospective juror told counsel she “didn’t believe in the jury system” because of an experience her brother had in a criminal case two years earlier. She said she thought she would have a hard time judging the case because of her personal experience and that she no longer had any faith in the jury system. She also indicated that because of this experience one side may be starting out ahead of the other in the trial (although she didn’t say which side she would favor). The trial judge refused to strike the prospective juror for cause.

The Second District Court of Appeal held the trial judge erred in refusing to strike the juror for cause, and reversed the judgment for the plaintiff. Kochalka v. Bourgeois, 40 FLW D943 (Fla 2nd DCA 4-22-15). The court reaffirmed well established Florida law that a “trial court must excuse a prospective juror for cause if any reasonable doubt exists regarding his or her ability to render an impartial verdict,” and “in close cases, any doubt as to a juror’s competency should be resolved in favor or excusing the juror rather than leaving a doubt as to his or her impartiality.” The court observed that even though the prospective juror did not state which side she would favor, her acknowledgement of bias should have disqualified her from serving on the jury. Her bias did not have to be “party-specific.”