This week the Florida Supreme Court in Matarranz v. Florida ruled that a defendant who was convicted of First-Degree Murder and Burglary should be granted a new trial because the trial judge failed to remove a prospective biased juror for cause. Interestingly, the juror never actually served because the defense attorney used a peremptory to remove her. However, despite not serving, the defense attorney was still able preserve the issue (whether the juror should have been removed for cause) for appeal.
---he objected to the jurors
---he exhausted all peremptories
---he requested more peremptories
---he identified a specific juror he would have excused if possible
This case is also a good one to cite when an attorney or the judge is trying to "rehabilitate" a prospective juror.
The court's colloquy with the biased juror is provided below.
THE COURT: [Juror], I wanted to follow-up with you. You had answered a question about the fact that this is a burglary case and it had to do with whether or not you thought you could be a fair juror in this case. Tell me what you are thinking.
JUROR: It is just from past experiences. I have been the victim of burglaries like my house when I was younger and also I wrote down that my cousin was a victim of fraud and like trying to cash fake checks and it wasn’t really his fault and everything that happened with that and how it affected my family, that still affected me and I hold a grudge on that and he was pretty much fleeing from whoever that guy was taking checks on and my cousin was the unfortunate one that happened to cash it and that stayed on his record and it is something that I hold against him. How it affected me, my parents and my whole family. I don’t think I could be fair against [Matarranz] because I hold that grudge.
THE COURT: The grudge that you hold is against someone who violates the law?
THE COURT: But the law holds a grudge on people who violate the law once a person is convicted of violating the law, if a person is convicted and it is in my division, it is my job to sentence the victim but I hear what you are saying, but I want to make sure that you understand that this trial would not be about whether or not it is okay to have a grudge against people who commit crimes. The question is going to be was a crime committed and if it was committed whether Mr. Matarranz is the one that committed it; you understand that?
THE COURT: Well, for example you told me it was your brother?
JUROR: My cousin.
THE COURT: Who was cashing checks and he ended up getting accused of something that he in fact didn’t do?
JUROR: Yes. He had no idea about it.
THE COURT: So, you don’t hold a grudge against people who are accused of something that they didn’t do?
JUROR: No. It is just—I don’t know how it affected like—I don’t know—it is something that just stays there. I know how it affected us and how everything happened. It was during the holiday season and it was just crazy and it just makes me sad about it and it brings back bad memories.
THE COURT: And I thank you and when you have the bad memories come back since you are approaching the holidays and this is going to be a burglary case, when you look over at these two tables which way does your judgment go, if you feel like you have one?
JUROR: Towards him.
THE COURT: And you are indicating towards the defense table?
THE COURT: Let me ask the lawyers, if they have any questions?
PROSECUTOR: You have not heard any evidence yet with regard to Mr. Matarranz, right?
PROSECUTOR: Are you able to listen to the testimony and the evidence in this case with an opened mind?
JUROR: I could have an open mind about it, but it is still—knowing myself I think I would lean more towards the State of Florida just because I don’t think that it is right for someone to come in and take something that someone worked so hard for and take their life away from that person.
PROSECUTOR: Can you follow the judge’s law and the law in the State of Florida and say I know that I favor the defendant, because he looks like a family member or I favor the State because I want to be a State Attorney when I grow up. The question is, can you follow the law and not say I’m going to be more for the defendant or more for the State and just sit here and listen to the evidence and make the State prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt, because that is what we have to do?
PROSECUTOR: So my question is, can you do that even though you may feel more sympathetic particular towards one side or the other. Can you put aside your feelings and sit here with an open mind and see whether or not the State of Florida at the end of the case has proved the charges of murder in the first degree against the defendant, can you do that honestly?
JUROR: Yes, I think I could. Just like you say maybe I would lean a little more to one side, but I would have to hear everything before I can actually make a decision.
PROSECUTOR: You can’t lean. That is what you are saying when you say I think you are going to make the State nervous . . . and you are going to make [defense counsel] nervous. You can’t say I think. My question, can you put aside your feelings for the State or the feelings for the defendant, put them aside if you are selected as a juror and listen to the evidence that comes forward on the case and make a determination at the conclusion of all the evidence as to whether or not the State of Florida has proved these two charges against the defendant. Can you do that, honestly?
THE COURT: Thank you. . . .
DEFENSE COUNSEL: I’m confused. I’m sorry. . . . You started telling your honor that you couldn’t do what you just told the prosecutor that you are going to do.
JUROR: I can put it aside but, it is just that with my past experiences—I have an old mind in all things and I know that I can do it. It is just that I rather not, just because—I mean, put it aside, but I can have an open mind and put all my feelings aside. . . .
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Are those feelings going to make it easier for the State to secure a conviction against Mr. Matarranz, if you sit as a juror in this case?
JUROR: I would have to hear—like I would have to hear the whole thing.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: What are you going to require me to do?
PROSECUTOR: Judge, I’m going to object.
THE COURT: Sustained. . . .
DEFENSE COUNSEL: These feelings that you have right  now that you are leaning towards the State because of your prior experiences, would you explain those prior experiences, please.
JUROR: No prior experience, just like I explained to the judge, I had a cousin.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Tell me about the burglary?
JUROR: The burglary was when I was younger, someone broke into my house it was on Christmas day, they stole everything and they—it is not easy for me like, an eight year old come into my house, knowing all of my presents are gone and everything that my parents worked so hard for is now gone.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: And it still brings back bad memories as you think about it now.
JUROR: Sometimes. It has gotten easier. They have been moments that I don’t even think about it, but sometimes when something comes up I think a lot of it.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Did you start thinking about it as soon as your honor told you that one of the charges w[as] burglary?
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Can you tell me what you started thinking about as soon as you heard that it was a burglary?
JUROR: Just me walking in my house and knowing that everything that my parents worked extremely hard for is now not there and now they have to work harder again to move on forward then that. . . .
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Do you think those experiences that you have and those experiences that you are remembering today, do you think that they are going to affect you as you deliberate and make the decision whether or not Mr. Matarranz is guilty of the charge of burglary and the charge of murder.
JUROR: No, ‘cause I would have to hear it. I don’t think so.
The next day, the Juror was questioned again by the prosecutor and defense counsel.
PROSECUTOR: [Juror], same questions to you. You kind of went back and forth and I want to ask you, if you can promise that you will not hold it against the defendant because he doesn’t have a burden, if he decides not to testify or if they decide not to put on witnesses, are you okay with that?
PROSECUTOR: And you understand that it is the State’s burden to prove him guilty beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt?
PROSECUTOR: And do you understand that they do not have the burden to do anything?
PROSECUTOR: The bottom line is, you may want to hear, can you follow the law that they do not have to do anything in this case?
PROSECUTOR: And hold the State to its burden?
JUROR: Yes. . . .
. . . .
DEFENSE COUNSEL: As we are sitting here today, have you been thinking about what we talked about yesterday?
JUROR: And I talked about it and I have a more opened mind about it and I gave a thought and I have opened mind and that anything that happened to me in the past has nothing to do with this case.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Would you like Mr. Matarranz to testify?
JUROR: It doesn’t matter. It depends on the evidence whether he is guilty or not. As of right now he is innocent because there is nothing presented to me that proves otherwise.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Have you ever heard of somebody that did something but in real[i]ty he didn’t do it?
DEFENSE COUNSEL: What do you think about it?
JUROR: It depends on the evidence that is there because words are just words.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Are you opened to the possibility that somebody would say that he did something very terrible, very bad which in fact he didn’t? . . . Are you opened to the possibility that somebody may admit to doing something terrible where in fact he didn’t do that?
Later, the trial court, prosecutor, and defense counsel discussed which prospective jurors they believed should remain on the panel. When the trial court asked defense counsel whether he wanted to use a peremptory challenge to strike the Juror, the following dialogue transpired:
DEFENSE COUNSEL: We move to strike [the Juror] for cause yesterday. She essentially said she would hold a grudge against people who violate the law and people who steal and this was based upon her previous victimized—the fact that she was previously the victim of burglary. She has a grudge toward the defendant. She leans towards the State and I think she even said multiple times, originally she said that she had a problem with the charges when your honor asked her if she could be fair and impartial, she said to both, even though today she kind of backtracked a little bit, she said she now has more of an opened mind. It is clear that this is a woman or a juror who could not be fair and impartial beyond a reasonable doubt that being the standard we move to strike her for cause.
THE COURT: I’m going to deny the cause challenge. Having only had heard testimony from yesterday, I would have been inclined to grant it, but her testimony yesterday includes the fact that there had been this burglary when she was eight years old, that was emotional for her because it included the theft of her Christmas toys and today based on her demeanor, I believe from her reflection, I think she was embarrassed and she said that she thought about it last night and she said that she felt that she had more of an opened mind today and that she could be fair and she realized that that burglary that happened to her had nothing to do with this case. So, for those reasons I’m going to deny the cause challenge; do you wish to exercise a peremptory?