The Long and Winded Road
The fair and impartial jury, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Section 11 of the Florida Constitution, is crucial to the administration of justice under our legal system. The fundamental necessity of a fair and impartial jury was heralded by early Court decisions as judges initiated an effort to secure and safeguard the integrity of the jury trial. Jurors should, if possible, be not only impartial, but beyond even the suspicion of partiality.
- O’Connor v. State, 9 Fla. 215,222 (Fla. 1860)
I remember my late grandfather. He was always on time. He was such a stickler for time, he usually arrived about a half-hour earlier than we expected him, but we grew accustomed to it. Growing up, he used to take us to Ocean Grove, NJ, a beach town where driving on the streets was banned on Sunday. He was, after all, a man of the cloth, and Ocean Grove was founded as a religious resort.
"COME ON, COME ON, COME ON! LET'S GO, LET'S GO, LET'S GO!" I can still hear him say that. In this regard, Judge Perry closely resembles my Grandfather. "You'd better get going or I'll leave without you."
How many times has the judge told the defense that the show will go on whether they're ready or not? Of course, he wouldn't really do such a thing any more than my grandfather would have left us behind.
Now going into the ninth day, jury selection in the Casey Anthony trial has been an excruciatingly slow experience for us. The predominant reason why, more than anything else, is because of the repetitive questioning; something the court, the state, and the defense are guilty of, but are they? Not really, considering that each juror must be fed the same rules individually.
Those of us who are used to the way Judge Perry runs his courtroom have found that he is a consummate professional; one who has the precision of a brain surgeon. Because he is such a perfectionist, we have grown accustomed to his inner clock. By that, I mean when he says court will begin at 8:30 in the morning, you can bet your bottom dollar he will be there at that time unless the defendant is running late. This means that when he expected to seat a jury in six days, it's precisely what we expected him to do, although a lot of us may have thought otherwise. Despite his admonitions, plucking twelve jurors and eight alternates from Pinellas County is not going exactly as planned. Why? Because the rules are different in death penalty cases and he knows it. He also understands that the state has its own definition of a perfect juror, and so does the defense. Seldom do they see eye-to-eye. Meanwhile, the judge grows a little more impatient.
Unfortunately, the wheels of justice do turn slowly at times, and in jury selection, the judge is more of a referee than anything else. If he inserts himself too directly into the examination of prospective jurors, he enters into a gray area that may open doors for an appeal later on - if the defendant is convicted, of course.
What we have been witnessing the past few days is something called voir dire. According to Legal-Definitions.com, voir dire (vwahr deer) is "the opportunity to examine the jurors before their appointment as regards to their integrity and balanced approach. Voir dire means to see the person and talk to him personally with a purpose to evaluate him. Jurors are interviewed by judges and attorneys before assigning the case to them." Voir dire is a French term, meaning “to speak truth.”
When the judge placed a half-hour time limit on each juror's questioning, he had to take to task that this could also raise a flag or two later on. As I cited in my previous post, Carver v. Niedermayer, 920 So2d 123 (Fla 4th DCA 2006), the Fourth District Court of Appeal concluded from the record in that case that the trial judge abused his discretion in limiting voir dire examination as he did, and his ruling was reversed. I don't feel this will be the issue with this case. Judge Perry is quite aware of the law, and he gave both sides plenty of time and many opportunities to ask appropriate questions. If the defense does try to use this as a cause for appeal later on, the Fifth District Court of Appeal will take note that the defense was given ample time to address every issue with each juror. There is no redundancy.
Peremptory strikes and challenges for cause (or reason) have preoccupied a great amount of time in the courtroom, and the judge has had to deal with both forms from the defense and the state. With regard to challenges (or strikes) for cause, there is no limit, but that doesn't mean the court won't deny them. The key word here is cause. There must be a valid reason to ask for one. In the matter of peremptory strikes or challenges, according to the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, the total amount of strikes for each side is ten. Rule 3.340 (a)(1) states: "Ten, if the offense charged is punishable by death or imprisonment for life." The court has the power to increase the amount, if necessary.
The U.S. Supreme Court holds that the purpose of the peremptory challenge is "to assure the parties that the jurors before whom they try the case will decide on the basis of the evidence placed before them, and not otherwise." Despite the existence of the peremptory challenge since the U.S. was formed, the Supreme Court has limited their use based on the equal protection rights of those involved in the judicial process and of qualified jurors. Specifically, those peremptory challenge limitations are based on race, gender, and on other group identities. This would include religions, national origin or occupations. As was exercised in court on Wednesday, it will one day be argued "that all group-based peremptory challenges should, and eventually, will be eliminated as well." (See: Improving the Jury System: Peremptory Challenges by Patricia Henley)
Yes, jury duty is taking longer than Judge Perry expected, but by golly, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to move a few more rocks out of the way until we get there, but in the end, there will be justice for Caylee. My best guess now is that the actual trial will begin on Monday, May 23.
By the way, we can't say justice for Caylee any longer. George and Cindy have finally gotten around to trademarking their granddaughter's name and likeness, and that includes the phrase. So much for all those companies that are making tons of money off the deceased toddler. That, in itself, has been an injustice, but why wait until now, so close to the end? After all, justice is less than three months away, right?
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