Sunday, July 10, 2011

Featured Case - McDaniel - Jury Strikes and Investigative Hearsay

McDaniel v. Commonwealth, 09-SC-443 (June 16, 2011) (published)

The Supreme Court held it was reversible error for the trial court to fail to strike two jurors  for cause, depriving the client of two peremptory challenges. The Court noted the issue was properly preserved under Gabbard. One juror worked with the murder victim’s wife, who was also charged, and the other who worked with the victim previously and liked him. Neither juror could say unequivocally they could be fair and impartial. Very nice language in this case about the importance of an impartial jury and that “equivocal” is not good enough.  

The failure to strike a clearly biased juror for cause, necessitating the use of a peremptory strike to ensure an unbiased jury, is the denial of a substantial right, and we hold that a trial court abuses its discretion when it seats a juror who is truly equivocal with regard to his or her ability to render an impartial judgment. Under Shane and Paulley equivocation is simply not good enough. Shane, 243 S .W.3d at 339; Paulley, 323 S.W.3d 715 . The substantial right recognized in those case provides no room for a trial court to seat a juror who is not sure whether he can provide both sides with a level playing field . A juror's statements and demeanor must support the trial court's decision to seat him, given the totality of the circumstances . To do less would give defendant's a substantial right "with one hand and take [it] away with the other." Shane, 243 at 339 . Therefore, because these two jurors could not state that they possessed the ability to be fair and impartial we hold that the selection process was not fair in this case. We reiterate that "a trial is not fair if only parts of it can be called fair." Id.

The Court also ruled that the police chief offered investigative hearsay when he repeated what other charged defendants had told him about McDaniel’s involvement.

 Contributed by Shannon Smith