(Please also note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this car accident case and its proceedings.)
U.S. Supreme Court Standard
Wainright v Witt, (1985) 496 US 412 held the standard for exercising a challenge for cause is whether the jury may be “substantially impaired” from following the law. A question of whether the juror can “follow the law” is insufficient to meet this standard. Most jurors try to be fair and most will say that they can follow the law. And, indeed jurors usually use their best efforts to comply with their duties. But, there may be circumstances of a specific case or a specific rule of law in which the juror may try to follow the law, but is impaired from doing so, by virtue of their knowledge, training, experience, or other factors. The parties in personal injury cases are entitled to know about jurors who have no impediments to applying the law as instructed by the court, not jurors who may try and fail to comply.
Trial Counsel Must be Given Latitude to Discover Bias
In considering the challenges for cause, California has detailed provisions for challenges. There are three grounds for a challenge for cause: 1) general disqualification, which disqualifies the juror from serving in the action on trial; 2) implied bias, as, when the existence of the facts as ascertained, in judgment of law disqualifies the juror; or 3) actual bias, when a state of mind exists on the part of the juror in reference to the case, or to any of the parties, which will prevent the juror from acting with entire impartiality, and without prejudice to the substantial rights of any party. (CCP §225, (b)(1)(A), (b)(1)(B), and (b)(1)(c). For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.
A challenge for implied bias may be taken for one or more of the following causes:
(e) Having an unqualified opinion or belief as to the merits of the action founded upon knowledge of its material facts or of some of them.
(f) The existence of a state of mind in the juror evincing enmity against, or bias towards, either party. (CCP §229.)
Seeking to determine bias and obtaining the jurors’ commitment to honestly and openly express it is the key to any valid voir dire. Sometimes extreme examples are necessary to elicit a particular juror’s natural inclination to favor one party or another. For instance, plaintiff’s counsel should not be precluded from stating a dollar amount, without suggesting, that the facts in this case warranted a certain dollar amount.
Thus, plaintiff’s counsel should be permitted to ask a question like, If the facts and law allowed you to award money for pain and suffering, could you award a dollar? Could you award a million dollars? If a juror has a preconceived bias that limits the amounts of damages he or she could award, plaintiff should be permitted to have the juror removed for cause.
As demonstrated above, and as stated plainly in the California Code of Civil Procedure, all attorneys should have great latitude to elicit bias. Therefore, there should be no limitations on jury voir dire.
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.