Jury selection is a critical part of any Florida criminal trial, including those that involve sex offenses. Lawyers have the opportunity to remove certain people from the jury pool, but judges wield much of the power in determining who makes it into the jury box. In a recent decision, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal explained that judges are also expected to take certain steps to ensure that jurors check certain biases at the door.
A defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under the age of 16, showing obscene material to a child, and lewd or lascivious exhibition in the presence of a child. His attorney asked during the jury selection process whether the potential jurors agreed that children don’t lie about sexual abuse. One juror in particular, a social worker whose employer had been involved in two high-profile pedophilia cases in another state, drew the trial court’s attention. She told the lawyer that her experience in more than 35 years of social work was that children don’t lie when it comes to allegations of sexual abuse.
Although the judge advised the woman that jurors are not supposed to apply their own personal experience to the law or jury instructions, the woman reiterated that that she felt strongly that children do not lie about sexual abuse. She rated the strength of that opinion as a “9 or 9.5” out of 10. The defendant’s attorney asked that she be excluded from the jury pool for cause, based on her opinion. The judge rejected that request but allowed the attorney to use a peremptory challenge to exclude her from the jury. The defendant was eventually convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Reversing the conviction on appeal, the Fourth District said the judge should have excluded the juror for cause. “The juror rang the proverbial bell twice, one coming after the court’s attempt at rehabilitation,” the court said. “Although she agreed that she could put aside her prior experiences when questioned by the trial judge, she nonetheless doubled-down on her previous statement that children never lie about sexual molestation after further questioning by defense counsel.”
The court acknowledged that the defendant’s lawyer used a peremptory strike on the juror. It said, however, that the lawyer should have been able to potentially use that strike on another member of the jury pool.
The Fourth District reversed the decision and remanded the case back to the trial judge for additional proceedings.
If you or a loved one has been charged with lewd and lascivious molestation in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. St. Petersburg sex crime attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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