Jury Impartiality: Why it’s so Difficult, and How it Can be Achieved

The right to an impartial jury during one’s criminal trial is fundamental; it is guaranteed by the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This right is of such importance because it must be the case that those who render verdicts, which profoundly affect (and sometimes end) lives, must be unbiased and solely basing their judgments off the facts of the case.
This, especially in today’s media-saturated word, is no easy feat, as our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know from experience.

This issue, and efforts to remedy it, have been brought to light in the pre-trial filings and hearings of the manslaughter case of Palm Beach polo magnate John Goodman, for which the Judge has sent out jury summonses to individuals in Tampa Bay, not wanting to run the risk of a pool of Palm Beach jurors having already made up their minds about Mr. Goodman.

The jury selection process is critical to upholding defendants’ 6th Amendment rights. Making sure that jurors can be partial in the case for which they’ve been summoned is the most important determination that the attorneys can make before deciding whether or not to select a potential juror.

For example, if a potential juror or their loved one(s) had been the vicitm of the crime that the defendant is accused of having comitted, that potential juror probably wouldn’t be selected, given how emotional they would be about the crime in question. On the other hand, someone with no connection to the case or the facts therein would make a more impartial, objective juror, and the goal is to have a panel of jurors who can be objective.

This is obviously difficult, given how most everyone is influenced by television news shows, radio talk shows, social media posts, etc. — even water cooler discussions influence how you think and what you think about. Thus, a group of individuals who live right near where the alleged crime took place are more likely than others to have heard about the trial and, more importantly, to have heard and been influenced by commentary on the case, usually offered by opinionated (and often impartial, unbiased) commentators.

As such, this idea of bringing in and sequestering jurors from another part of the state (like we are seeing with the John Goodman case) is not a new one.

You may recall back in 2011, the jury selection process for the Orlando trial of Casey Anthony made its way up to Pinellas County/St. Petersburg area. Judge Belvin Perry, who presided over the jury selection and the criminal trial, said that he wanted jurors from outside of the immediate area (Orlando) because of the media show that that the reports on the case had created. His argument was that jurors from out of the Orlando area (Pinellas County, for instance) might be less influenced than those in the city in which the alleged crime happened, for it seemed as if all Orlando could talk about at that time was Casey Anthony. Judging by television talk shows and social media rants, it appeared that Floridians in Orlando had made up their mind about her.

Judge Perry’s concern was that a jury from Orlando would certainly have rendered a guilty verdict in the Anthony case, regardless of the facts with which they were presented. As it turns out, Casey Anthony was found not guilty, most likely a function of the fact that Judge Perry opted for outside jurors. His goal was not to find a jury that would find her not guilty, but to find one that would be impartial, and he succeeded in that respect. We will see if the judge in the Goodman case (for which jury selection begins in early October) can do the same.

If you have any questions about this or any other criminal defense issue, or if you’ve been arrested for or charged with any crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please reach out to us to schedule a free consultation by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to assisting you.

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