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: The Florida Jury Selection Blog

“A Clear, Direct Question”

By Robert W. Kelley, Esq.


A jury in Miami awarded $3.9 million to the mother ofa youngwoman who was killed by a drunk driver. After the verdict, theState Farmdefense attorneys found out for the first time thatthejury foreman’s fatherhad beenan alcoholic.They asked for a new trial alleging that the foreman had concealed this important information from them duringjury selection. The trial court denied the request, and the appellate court affirmed the verdictholding thata key requirement to establishing prejudicial concealment of information by a juror duringvoir direis a “clear, direct question” requiring a response by the venire member. “No such question was posed here.” So the verdict wasupheld. Hood v. Valle, 33 FLW D235a (Fla 3rd DCA 1/16/08).

But it’s not that simple. In Hood, two panels of jurors were questioned separately during voir dire. Apparently, the first panelwas seatedin the courtroom while the second panel was being questioned. And although there were questions asked of the second panelconcerning family members with substance abuse problems — to which two members of that panel responded that their fathers had been alcoholics — no such question had been asked of the first panelfrom which the forepersonultimately emerged. The first panel had earlier been asked generalquestions concerning whether “anything about drinking” might affect their consideration of the case,or whether they had any “strong feelings about people who drink?” But, as noted by the Court, theyhad never beenasked the“clear, direct question” whether they had a parent who was or had been an alcoholic.

As a result of the inadequate questioning, the appellate courtconcluded that thefirst panel (sitting separately) had no reason to believe that they were to participate in the questioning of the second panel, or that they had some duty to supplement their own previous answers in response to later questioning. “No member of the first panel, including the subject juror, responded to questions addressed to the second panel.” Accordingly, the Court did not find any indication that the juror in question concealed information during the questioning, and therefore the jury’s verdict was affirmed.

Full post as published by The Florida Jury Selection Blog on January 17, 2008 (boomark / email).

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