Jurors in a criminal case should not form definite opinions on the case before hearing all of the evidence. Jurors are not supposed to discuss a case with each other until all of the evidence has been presented. The standard jury instructions direct jurors not to form a fixed opinion or discuss the case before all of the evidence has been presented. The Florida Supreme Court has held that a premature discussion of the case by jurors is improper. If a party believes there was a premature discussion, that party may move to interview one or more jurors to determine if the verdict is subject to a legal challenge. This issue was recently before the Fifth District in the case of Phelps v. State.
In this case, the trial court had ordered the jury not to deliberate before all of the evidence had been heard, but the defendant’s mother stated an alternate juror told her that there had been discussions before the case was submitted to the jury. After the verdict was entered, the defendant moved to interview an alternate juror, based on information from the defendant’s mother. At the hearing, the mother testified that the alternate had told her that the jurors talked during lunch and breaks. The defendant’s mother also stated that the alternate told her that jurors had said that they wanted to hear the defendant testify and questioned why an innocent defendant would not testify.
The trial court denied the motion, finding that the evidence did not indicate that the jurors had both discussed the case and formed an opinion before all of the evidence was presented. Previous case law, however, has held that an inquiry is appropriate to determine if premature deliberations occurred. The Fifth District cited several similar cases in which the appeals court found an abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of a motion to interview jurors.
The Fifth District found that the facts presented showed that at least two jurors discussed the case before it was submitted to them. This discussion was a violation of the instructions the trial court gave the jury. Additionally, the evidence indicated that at least two jurors were predisposed to find the defendant guilty prior to proper deliberation. The Fifth District found there was an abuse of discretion here, and it reversed and remanded the case to the trial court.
A criminal defendant is entitled to a fair trial, and an impartial jury is a fundamental component of a fair trial. Improper conduct by the jury prevents a defendant from receiving a fair trial. Even though there was no allegation that the jury considered outside evidence or discussed the case with anyone other than each other, their premature discussions could prejudice the defendant.
Criminal defendants need a skilled attorney on their side. If you are facing criminal charges, call the Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine at (800) 747-3733, or submit an online contact form.
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