What Martin v. State Tells Us About Juror Dishonesty in Criminal Cases
Jury trials are a sacred right for Florida’s criminal defendants, and the right to a fair and impartial jury of your peers is enumerated in Article I, Section 22 of the Florida Constitution, the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. During a jury trial, lawyers spend most of the time trying to convince the members of the jury to hand down a verdict in their client’s favor. This shows how important the members of the jury are in criminal cases, and why trial lawyers spend so much time screening the juror during a process called voir dire. Voir dire refers to the process of jury selection, during which each lawyer will ask potential jurors questions and aim to keep or remove certain individuals based on their answers. Since trial lawyers strike or retain jurors based on their answers to the questions, it is critical that the jurors answer with honesty and candor. But, members of the jury are human beings, and human beings sometimes lie. What happens when a juror lies and how does that affect you or a loved one’s criminal case?
Martin v. State, the Florida Supreme Court’s Most Recent Opinion on Juror Dishonesty
On May 6, 2021, the Florida Supreme Court handed down its most recent opinion on the issue of a lying member of the jury. In Martin, the Appellant was convicted in the trial court robbery and appealed his sentence to the Florida Supreme Court, who, in turn, addressed the standard for evaluating postconviction claims of juror misconduct based on the juror’s nondisclosure of information during voir dire. In 2008, a grand jury indicted the Appellant on one count of first-degree murder and one count of armed robbery. In November of 2009, the voir dire process began, and the prosecuting attorney questioned the potential jurors about previous arrests of themselves or close friends and family. While many of the potential jurors shared prior encounters with law enforcement openly with the court, one juror, Smith, remained silent throughout the questioning. He stayed silent for additional questions, like if any of the potential jurors, or their close friends and family, had been victims of violent crime. Smith went on the serve as a member of the jury in the Appellant’s case, and what he did not disclose is that he, as a minor, had been adjudicated delinquent for sexual battery in 1985, had a DUI conviction in 1992, and his grandmother had murdered his grandfather in 1977 or 1978. As the Appellant’s case came to a case at the trial level, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts and the Appellant was sentenced to death and thirty years in prison.
The Appellant raised a claim for post-conviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to ascertain that juror Smith lied during voir dire. This eventually culminated into an evidentiary hearing where the Appellant was allowed to depose, or question, juror Smith. When asked if he had lied about, or omitted, anything else, Juror Smith admitted to his grandfather’s murder in the 70’s. The Appellant subsequently filed a motion for relief based on the “newly discovered evidence,” of juror Smith’s admissions. At the evidentiary hearing on that claim, juror Smith testified that he had failed to disclose all of this information, but not purposefully. He alleged that he did not remember hearing the relevant voir dire questions when they were asked, and that he handed down his verdict based solely on the evidence presented at trial. Appellant’s trial counsel testified at the hearing that he would have attempted to strike juror Smith if he had known about his dishonesty during questioning. The court eventually denied Appellant’s claim that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to learn of juror Smith’s dishonestly and his claim that juror Smith’s admissions constituted “newly discovered evidence” that would have produced an acquittal on retrial.
Finally, the Appellant came before Florida’s Supreme Court, arguing that the lower court erred in denying his claims.
The Standard Used in Reviewing Claims of Relief Based on Juror Dishonesty
In evaluating Appellant’s claim, the Florida Supreme Court had to analyze whether the Appellant’s right to be tried by an impartial jury was violated by juror Smith’s omissions. In order to establish the requisite prejudice in the postconviction context, the court must find, based on legally sufficient evidence, that there existed actual juror bias against the defendant. They further found that the predicate for a claim of juror misconduct is the failure of the juror to candidly answer a material question during the voir dire process. Therefore, an honest answer, even if later revealed to be mistaken, will not warrant postconviction relief. Additionally, a material question is one that influences or can influence the determination of actual bias against the defendant. So, the first step in their analysis is finding a juror answered dishonestly in response to a material question. The next step is to find out if the juror’s misconduct resulted in the violation of the defendant’s right to an impartial jury. In order to make this showing, the movant must prove that actual juror bias existed against the defendant. Therefore, if the record reflects that the juror lied or omitted information for a purpose other than to conceal bias or prejudice against the defendant, then the movant’s claim will fail. Actual bias is defined as bias-in-fact which would prevent a juror from serving impartially. The Florida Supreme Court found that, in the Appellant’s case, there was no proof of actual bias, so his convictions and sentences were affirmed.
What Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do About Juror Dishonesty?
As you can see from the above-outlined case, it is critical to ensure that you or a loved one receive a panel of honest, transparent, impartial, and fair jurors. In order to make sure this happens; an experienced and zealous defense attorney is extremely important during the voir dire process and in protecting your constitutional rights after. Contact a Tallahassee criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to make sure that juror dishonesty does not affect the outcome of you or a loved one’s criminal case. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience in the process of juror selection and questioning and can ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process. Call a defense attorney today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your options during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.
Attorney Don Pumphrey, Jr. is a former prosecutor, former law enforcement officer, and a successful and experienced criminal defense attorney. Don has achieved over 100 not guilty verdicts at trial and over 2,000 dismissals.