Florida Appeals Court Rules Defendant Not Entitled to Strike Juror Despite Past Burglary – Mattaranz v. State

August 17, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a Miami-Dade burglary criminal defense attorney, I was interested to read a recent ruling from the state appeals court that serves South Florida, the Third District Court of Appeal. In Rafael Mattaranz v. State of Florida, the defendant appealed his conviction for murder and burglary on the grounds that he should have been permitted to strike a juror. The juror had expressed concerns during voir dire that she might “lean toward the State” because she had been a victim of burglary and her cousin had been a victim of identity theft. She eventually concluded that she would need to hear the entire case before deciding guilt, and sat on the jury. Mattaranz appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court should not have denied his challenge to the juror for cause.

The juror originally told the court about a past burglary of her family, which happened when she was a child, and the identity theft. In particular, she said she “holds a grudge” against the identity thief because of the way it affected her family. Under questioning, she said she could have an open mind but leaned more toward the State, but after another explanation, she agreed that she could put aside her feelings in order to decide whether Mattaranz was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. She said repeatedly that she would have to hear the entire case before deciding guilt. The defense lawyer challenged her for cause, but the court denied the motion, so the defense attorney used a peremptory challenge on her. However, at the end of voir dire, the defense lawyer moved for another peremptory challenge, arguing that five jurors should have been struck for cause, and did not name the juror in question. Only one juror deemed objectionable by the defense eventually sat on the jury that convicted Marraranz.

On appeal, the Third District upheld the trial judge’s actions. Under well-established law, it wrote, trial judges must decide whether jurors can lay aside prejudice or bias and render an impartial verdict; and those decisions must be upheld if the record supports them. In this case, the court found enough evidence that the juror in question was able to be fair and impartial. Equivocation is not itself evidence of lack of impartiality, it noted. Thus, it could not find that the trial judge’s decision was incorrect.

This issue is highly relevant to my work as a south Florida murder criminal defense lawyer. It has been said that cases are won or lost according to who sits on the jury, and in fact, the Supreme Court has found that excluding jurors based on their race violates the defendant’s civil rights. As a result, every competent criminal defense attorney is very careful about the selection of the jury, even though this is only a preliminary to the evidence presented at trial. When looking for jurors who might be less than favorable, as a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney, I look for people who might have any kind of bias against the defendant or the crime of which the defendant is accused. This can include being a victim of a past crime, as in this case; racial or gender bias; personal acquaintance and more.

If you’re accused of a serious crime in south Florida, don’t wait to call Seltzer Law, P.A. for help. We answer the phone 24 hours a day and seven days a week, because we know police don’t stop making arrests after business hours are over. To learn more or set up a free consultation, call us at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us a message online.

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