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Engagement to Public Defender: No Reason for Removal from Jury
On February 5, 2013 , the First District Court of Appeals reversed convictions for felony charges of Burglary and Aggravated Assault and remanded the case back to the trial court to be retried as a result of the trial court judge improperly excusing a prospective juror based on their engagement status to a public defender.
During jury selection, in response to an question to the panel, a prospective juror revealed that they were engaged to be married to a public defender . It was further revealed that the public defender was employed in another circuit and, although the prospective juror and his fiancee spoke about her cases , the juror indicated he would have no problem finding a person guilty if the evidence supported such a verdict.
Although court’s have the inherent authority to remove a prospective juror if they cannot lay aside any bias or prejudice and render a verdict solely on the evidence presented, in this case there was nothing other than the engagement status that was cited by the prosecutor as a basis for removal of the juror. As incomprehensible as it was for the prosecution to advance such an argument, nonetheless the trial court judge actually agreed over the defense objection. Fortunately the criminal defense attorney made a proper objection before the panel was sworn and preserved the issue for appellate review.
On appeal the Attorney General’s Office actually agreed it was error to exclude the prospective juror ,however, they argued the error was harmless. In its unanimous opinion rejecting such a view, the First District Court reminded the Attorney General that both the Florida and United States Supreme Courts have ruled otherwise and thus reversed the convictions and remanded the case for retrial.