“Any Reasonable Doubt” Standard

In Florida, a juror should be excused if there is any reasonable doubt as to the juror’s ability to render an impartial verdict, and if it is a close call, the juror should be excused. Somerville v Ahuja, 902 So. 2d 930 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005); “It is now well-established that if there is a reasonable doubt about the juror’s impartiality, the juror should be dismissed for cause. Close cases involving challenges to the impartiality of potential jurors should be resolved in favor of excusing the juror rather than leaving doubt as to impartiality. Bell v. Greissman, 902 So. 2d 846 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

a. “Conflicting Statements” by juror certainly create a reasonable doubt. Tizon v. Royal Caribbean, 645 So. 2d 504 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994).

2. Specific examples of jurors who should have been excused for cause:

a. He expressed “distaste for lawyers,” suggested that he would hold plaintiff to a “clear and obvious” standard of proof, and indicated that plaintiffs in general were “looking for easy money” and “trying to cheat the system” to “make an easy buck,” and that plaintiff would have to “overcome a resistance” on his part if he served as juror. Frazier v. Wesch, 913 So. 2d 1216 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

b. She has a “tiny bit” of prejudice in favor or the defendant doctor. She “guesses” her feelings against medical malpractice cases would “probably” stay with her during the trial. And she is not 100% sure her bias would not affect her verdict (but she would try). Somerville v Ahuja, 902 So. 2d 930, 933, 936 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005).

c. He would try to keep an open mind, but says that his “beliefs” about damage awards would “probably interfere with his obligations as a juror,” in medical malpractice case because he is definitely of the opinion that damage awards need to be capped. Bell v. Greissman, 902 So. 2d 846 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

d. One side must overcome a pre-conceived opinion in order to prevail. Bell v. Greissman at 848.

e. He believes the testimony of a police officer “carries a little more weight” than that of a lay person and he would give it “greater credence.” Slater v. State, 910 So. 2d 347 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

f. She “had a problem” with “large damage awards” and “awarding a large verdict,” and with holding an employer liable for its employees’ acts. She did not think it was fair that an employer should be held 100% accountable for actions of its employees and she would be “uncomfortable” applying such a rule. Bulkmatic Transport v. Taylor, 860 So. 2d 436 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003).

g. She would have “difficulty” with the greater weight of the evidence rationale. Bulkmatic at 440.

h. When asked about a “limit on human damages” and a potential award of two million dollars, she said it would “bother her because of an increase in insurance rates.” Bulkmatic at 439 and 440.

i. The juror would not be able to award two million dollars even if the evidence justified it, and the two sides would not be “starting out on an even playing field.” Bulkmatic, supra. (But note that this juror was left on jury after court denied challenge for cause, and counsel waived appellate error by not asking for additional peremptory challenges).

j. She can be “fair to both sides,” but doesn’t think she would be able to put a dollar amount on pain and suffering in a death case for the loss of a wife or for her companionship. Gootee v. Clevinger, 778 So. 2d 1005 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001).

k. He would have “trouble” or “difficulty” or a “problem” following the law on awarding money for pain and suffering. Or if he would have “difficulty in putting his feelings aside.” Pacot v. Wheeler, 758 So. 2d 1141 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).

l. She is a “fair person” and “thinks she can be fair,” but she disapproves of the legal concept of awarding money to compensate someone for the loss of a loved one. She was questioned about her “feelings and opinions” and whether the plaintiff was “starting off with an even playing field.” Nash v. General Motors, 734 So. 2d 437 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999).

m. She is a “fair person,” but would have a “little difficulty” being impartial in this case because she has negative feelings against the “particular type of personal injury lawsuit” being brought by plaintiff – an action for pain and suffering where there was a relatively minor injury.” Goldenberg v. Regional Import, 674 So. 2d 761 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996).

n. She can be fair and impartial and would agree to follow the law as the judge instructs her, but she would “have a difficult time” putting aside her feelings about recovery from back injuries, and the fact that her husband was a doctor would “definitely influence” her. Tizon v. Royal Caribbean, 645 So. 2d 504 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994).

o. She “probably” could follow the judge’s instructions although she “probably” would be prejudiced. Imbimbo v State, 555 So. 2d 954 (Fla. 4th DCA 1990).

p. They have “negative attitudes toward the legal system” due to lawsuits filed against them or family members, and that would result in bias. Levy v. Hawks Cay, 543 So. 2d 1299 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989).

q. She has a “close relationship” with the defendant corporation and initially stated she would “try” to be fair, and then added that she could be fair and could render a big verdict against the defendant and not feel uncomfortable about it. The “spectre” of her “close relationship” with the defendant looms out as a clear indication of bias, even though she never expressly stated she would be biased or favor one side. Longshore v. Fronrath Chevrolet, 527 So. 2d 922 (Fla. 4th DCA 1988).

i. See also Martin v. State Farm, 392 So. 2d 11 (Fla. DCA 1980) – “no matter how objective the juror might think she would be it is unquestionable she would be less than objective in a case involving her employer, her hospital, and her insurance company.”

ii. See also, Davenport v. Ephraim, 769 S.W. 2d 56 (Ky. App. 1988) – Med Mal case in which two jurors (doctor’s wife and nurse’s wife) should have been excused for cause because of their close relationship with the hospital. “irrespective of the answers given on voir dire, the court should presume the likelihood of prejudice on the part of the prospective juror because the potential juror has such a ‘close relationship,’ be it familial, financial or situational with any of the parties, counsel, victims or witnesses.”

r. Nurse who would “likely have her own interpretation” of fetal monitoring strips in med mal case, was excusable for cause because her statements evidenced an inability to be impartial during the interpretation of the strips by the parties’ experts. Sowers v. Middletown Hospital, 626 N.E. 2d 968 (Ohio App. 1993).

s. The plaintiff may be “starting out with one strike against him,” based on juror’s “feelings” about defendant corporation, even though juror later assured the court she could weigh the evidence and impartially decide the case. Club West v. Tropigas, 514 So. 2d 426 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987).

t. She would “try to be fair,” but because of a “friendly relationship” with one of the attorneys in the case she would probably “give a little more weight to what they say” as opposed to what the other side may say. Sikes v. Seaboard Coast Line, 487 So. 2d 1118 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986).

i. Note: This should apply equally to relationships with defendants and potential witnesses.

u. She could be fair and impartial, but she knew the defendant’s mother and would “rather not serve on the jury,” and repeatedly expressed her “discomfort.” Graham v. State, 470 So. 2d 97 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985).

v. He might be “biased subconsciously” or may not be able to render a verdict without being subconsciously influenced by the opinions he has formed. Singer at 20.

3. Juror did not have to be stricken for cause:

a. Just because he would draw an unfavorable inference if a party to lawsuit did not attend the trial without a satisfactory explanation. Stockwell v. Drake, 901 So. 2d 974 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).

4. A Juror can’t determine his own competence:

a. “A juror’s statement that he can and will return a verdict according to the evidence and the law … is not determinative of his competence.” “It is difficult for any person to admit that he is incapable of being able to judge fairly and impartially.” Singer v. State, 109 So. 2d 7 (Fla. 1959) at 24., Longshore at 924.

b. A juror’s statement that they can be “fair” is meaningless for purposes of determining whether juror should be excused for cause, because it is only human nature to think of oneself as fair minded. Goldenberg, supra at 764.

c. A juror’s assurance that he or she is able to remove the opinion, bias or prejudice from his or her mind is not determinative. Tizon, supra at 506.

d. “Most everyone considers themselves to be a ‘fair person.’ The juror’s statement that she is a ‘fair person’ may generally describe her personal philosophy, but was far from sufficient to demonstrate her ability and/or willingness to set aside her biases and render a fair and impartial verdict in the case before her.” Nash, supra at 440.

5. Court and defense counsel can’t “rehabilitate” a questionable juror

a. “It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the reasoning which leads to the conclusion that a person stands free of bias of prejudice who having voluntarily and emphatically asserted its existence in his mind, in the next moment under skillful questioning declares his freedom from its influence. By what sort of principle is it to be determined that the last statement of the man is better and more worthy of belief than the former?” See Overton v. State, 801 So. 2d 877 (Fla. 2001) (citing Price v. State, 538 So.2d 486 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989) (quoting Johnson v. Reynolds, 97 Fla. 591, 121 So. 793, 796 (1929)).

b. “Where a juror initially demonstrates a predilection in a case which in the juror’s mind would prevent him or her from impartially reaching a verdict, a subsequent change in that opinion arrived at by further questioning by the parties’ attorneys or the judge is properly viewed with some skepticism.” Further, a juror’s assurance that he or she is able to remove the opinion, bias or prejudice from his or her mind is not determinative. Juror should have been stricken even though she subsequently said she could be fair and impartial and would follow the law as the judge instructs her. Tizon, supra at 506., Club West, supra.

i. “Conflicting Statements” by juror certainly create a reasonable doubt. Tizon, supra.

ii. “Potential jurors responses to questions by the court or counsel in an effort to rehabilitate him or her, after having admitted to harboring some bias or prejudice, that they can set aside those prior admitted feelings is not determinative. And it is not sufficient is their responses are vacillating or couched with “I think” or “I would try.” Somerville at 935.