Appeals Court in Florida Considers Whether Former Prosecutor Can Serve As Juror

It is crucial that criminal defendants get a fair trial. One of the ways that the justice system assures fairness is by making sure the jury that is selected is impartial. Typically, both sides of a trial will get a specific number of peremptory challenges. Peremptory challenges allow either side to strike a juror for any reason or no reason at all. However, it is illegal to strike jurors solely based on their race or gender. Along with the peremptory challenges, either side can request that a juror be stricken for cause. A juror being stricken for cause means that there is something in the juror’s past or the way they have answered a question that makes it appear that they may not be able to be impartial. For example, a juror may be stricken for cause if they know the defendant or the victim. Since the process needs to be impartial, both sides can strike as many jurors for cause as they want, as long as the court approves.

Florida Grounds for Cause Challenges and Peremptory Challenges

Florida law lays out the specific grounds that courts will allow to strike a juror for cause. These grounds include: the juror has beliefs that would preclude them making a finding of guilt, the juror does not have the qualifications that the law requires, or the juror is of unsound mind or has a bodily defect that makes them incapable of performing the required duties. Other grounds include: the juror was on a criminal or civil jury that tried the same defendant for the same offense, the juror is related to one of the parties or one of the attorneys, and a few other grounds. Finally, there is a catch-all provision that allows a challenge for cause if the juror has a “state of mind” that prevents them from acting impartially.

Florida law also specifies the amount of peremptory challenges that the defendant gets. The number is based on the potential penalty for the crimes charged, with more serious crimes getting more challenges. If the defendant is charged with crimes that are punishable by life in prison or the death penalty, they are given ten peremptory challenges. If the charge is punishable by more than a year but less than life imprisonment then they get six challenges. For all other offenses they get three challenges.

The Instant Case

In this case heard by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, the defendant was charged with drug crimes and knowingly driving with a suspended or revoked license. One of the prospective jurors was an attorney. She had worked as an attorney for 37 years, including eight years as a prosecutor and a couple years as a criminal defense attorney. She now works as a family law attorney. Her husband also works for the state attorney’s office. However, she did indicate that she felt she could be impartial.

The defendant moved to strike the juror for cause due to the above reasons, but the trial court denied the motion. The defendant had already used his six peremptory challenges so he could not use those. She was seated as a juror and the defendant was found guilty. He appealed his guilt based on this juror’s alleged prejudice. The appeals court upheld the conviction. They reasoned that just having a relationship with the state attorney’s office is not enough for someone to be biased if they have made no statements that indicate some kind of partiality to the prosecution.

Contact an Experienced Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

A knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney can help to make sure that the jury that is hearing your case is a fair one. The attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm will protect you from an unfair or biased jury. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our attorneys today!

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