Trial Court Must Give Reasonable Notice of Time Limits

September 26, 2006

Both sides in a criminal case had questioned prospective jurors for “about an hour.” The trial judge then called the defendant to the bench and asked if he had any new questions, and the defendant said he had “plenty.” The trial judge responded, “No you don’t have plenty of new questions. You see the time? You’ve got about ten minutes.” The judge suggested he use his time wisely. After the defendant was convicted, the trial judge was reversed for failing to “give the parties reasonable notice of the time constraints so that they can pace the timing of their questioning as they see fit.” The 2nd DCA held in Roberts v. State, 937 So. 2d 781 (Fla 2nd DCA 2006), that while the trial court has discretion to limit the amount of time for voir dire, if the trial court is going to do so, it must give the parties “reasonable notice” of the time constraints. In this case, the court had not told either party that there was any time limit on voir dire before the questioning started, and thus the imposition of a ten minute time limit in the midst of voir dire was reversible error.