In criminal cases, jury trials demonstrate the “human element” that comes with involving a group of everyday people who come together to serve as jurors. On the opposite side of that sometimes unpredictable “human element” are the rules of procedure. Sometimes, in dealing with juries, a judge may make a mistake that runs afoul of these rules. Part of pursuing the strongest possible defense is making sure that, when this type of mistake occurs, you ensure that the mistake does not unfairly harm your rights.
The trial in a case recently decided by the First District Court of Appeal likely started similar to many others. The state had charged a man with two counts of vehicular homicide. The prosecutor and the attorney for the accused man each put on their respective cases. Upon the conclusion of both sides’ cases, the court submitted the matter to the jury.
After the jury began deliberating, though, things took a turn away from ordinary. The jury asked a question about the defendant’s driving history, including how often he got speeding tickets. The judge told the jury that they had to make their decision based on the evidence that was already given to them.
The jury sent another question. This time they asked for a report that was prepared by a state trooper. Because neither the prosecution nor the defense entered that report into evidence, the judge again told the jury they had to limit their decision-making to the proof before them.
Then they asked a third question. This time, they wanted to know if the passenger in the car that the defendant allegedly hit was wearing a seat belt. At this point, the judge brought the jury back in to court and, at great length, implored them to limit their deliberations to the evidence on the record and only the evidence on the record. Shortly thereafter, the jury returned with a verdict: guilty on both counts.
The man appealed and he won a reversal of his conviction on both charges, meaning he got a new trial. What triggered this result? It was the way the trial judge handled the third question from the jury. After the first and second questions, the judge notified the attorneys on both sides. After the third question, the judge brought the jury back and lectured them about how it was “to the evidence introduced in this trial and to it alone that you are to look for that proof”, without first notifying either the prosecutor or the counsel for the defendant. This, the appeals court explained, was an error that required reversal.
Rule 3.410 of the criminal procedure rules requires that, if a jury asks for anything extra and the judge decides to give them additional instructions, the judge can only give those additional instructions “after notice to the prosecuting attorney and to counsel for the defendant.” Florida law gives both sides’ attorneys the legal right to make arguments to the judge regarding what should be done with the jury request before the judge acts. That didn’t happen here and that error allowed the defendant’s appellate counsel to argue successfully for a reversal and a new trial.
If you are facing criminal charges, you need a skilled and knowledgeable advocate in your corner who understands the law, the rules of procedure, and how to make them work for you. The experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. have been helping the accused defend their rights for many years. Our experienced attorneys are ready to talk with you about your case. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the answers and assistance you need.
More blog posts:
When Even a Small Flaw in the State’s Case Can Overturn a Conviction in Florida, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Nov. 23, 2016
Accused Persons’ Rights to be Free from Double Jeopardy in Florida Criminal Cases, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Oct. 24, 2016