More Juror Concealment – By Two Convicted Felons

April 1, 2007

Two jurors in a personal injury case concealed their prior felony convictions during jury selection. Convicted felons are not qualified to serve as jurors pursuant to Fla. Stat. 40.013. In a lengthy well-reasoned opinion, Companioni v. City of Tampa, 958 So. 2d 404 (Fla. 2DCA 2007), the Second District Court of Appeal reinstated a substantial jury verdict for the plaintiff because the defendant was not able to show any “actual prejudice” as a result of the felons serving on the civil jury. The Court distinguished between felon jurors serving on a criminal case because “the notion that felon jurors have an ‘inherent bias’ has generally been expressed in the context of criminal cases, not civil cases like the one before us.” The Court concluded that since there was no actual prejudice to the civil litigants in this case, the jury verdict could stand, in accordance with State v. Rodgers, 347 So2d 610 (Fla. 1977) (affirming a jury verdict with an underaged juror).

In a concurring opinion, Judge Casanueva, utilized a different analysis to get to the same result. It was undisputed in the case that neither of the attorneys for the parties asked any of the prospective jurors any questions about prior felony convictions or any other questions pertaining to the prospective jurors’ statutory qualifications to serve on a jury. As a result, the judge concluded that the parties had failed to use due diligence during their voir dire, and were therefor unable to meet the third prong of the De La Rosa test which is utilized in cases involving juror concealment. See, De La Rosa v. Zequeira, 659 So. 2d 239 (Fla. 1995).

This case, like the case reported last week, underscores the importance of a thorough voir dire by the parties. Court questionnaires can’t be relied upon. Questions directed to the entire panel are not as good as questions directed to individuals. Prospective jurors can use their silence in these situations to avoid disclosing important information to the Court and attorneys. Background checks on individual jurors are also a critically important tool when conducting jury selection in 2007.