Wasted peremptory on juror who should have been excused for cause warrants new trial, court says

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The Florida Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a murder defendant because his lawyer had to use a peremptory challenge to remove a prospective juror who should have been excused for cause.

The court ruled in the case of Rafael Matarranz, who was convicted of murder and burglary for allegedly strangling a Miami Lakes woman after breaking into her home. CBS Miami, the Associated Press and the Miami Herald have stories. The court began its 5-2 ruling (PDF) by quoting Atticus Finch’s closing argument in To Kill a Mockingbird: “A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.”

The prospective juror had initially said she couldn’t be impartial because of the burglary of her home during on Christmas day when she was 8. The judge and the prosecutor in the case questioned the woman further about her ability to follow the law and to put aside her feelings. The possible juror agreed she could do so although “maybe I would lean a little more” to the prosecution.

The majority opinion said the possible juror admitted her possible bias and “it appears that the court may have ‘embarrassed’ her into rejecting her expressed sentiments.”

“Although the juror in this case did not serve because defense counsel exercised a peremptory challenge to remove her from the jury,” the court said, “Matarranz was prejudiced because he had one less peremptory challenge to use against other objectionable jurors.”

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