All Posts

Posted in In the community on July 17, 2019   |  by Gary Burger

Challenging a juror for cause

A party “is entitled to a full panel of qualified jurors before being required to make peremptory challenges and that there is prejudicial error in failing to sustain a meritorious challenge for cause.” State v. Wacaser, 794 S.W.2d 190, 193 (Mo. banc 1990).

So after voir dire, lawyers ask the court to strike jurors for cause who should not serve.

Failure to grant a legitimate challenge for cause is reversible error. State v. Stewart, 692 S.W.2d 295, 298 (Mo. 1985).

RSMo 494.470 establishes a juror must be stricken if he/she:

“has formed or expressed an opinion concerning the matter or any material fact in controversy in any case that may influence the judgment of such person”
has “opinions or beliefs preclude them from following the law as declared by the court in its instructions”
¨No person summoned as a witness¨
No person kin to a party, or the accused, or the prosecuting attorney in a criminal case
The court should exclude prospective jurors for any potential bias, even though the circumstances may not come specifically within the reason for exclusion set out above. See, e.g., Johnson v. Missouri-Kansas-Texas R.R. Co., 374 S.W.2d 1, 3 (Mo. 1963) (the 494.470 factors are not exclusive grounds for a cause challenge).

A prospective juror is not the judge of her own qualifications. State v. Coleman, 725 S.W.2d 113, 114 (Mo. App. 1987). The court must carefully consider the responses of the venireperson and make an independent evaluation of the juror’s qualifications. Id.

In making its determination, the trial court must analyze the facts detailed by the person and must not accept their own assessment that she could be unbiased. State v. Kayser 637 S.W.2d 836, 837 (Mo. App. 1982).

The trial court must sustain a challenge for cause if there is any doubt about a person’s impartiality. “If the answers of prospective jurors to questions posed by counsel or the court raise a doubt as to their ability to be fair, such doubt is to be resolved by removing them from the jury panel.” State v. Hamlett, 756 S.W.2d 197, 199 (Mo. App. 1988).

Moreover, when someone gives equivocal responses to questions about whether he can follow the Court’s instructions, such equivocation requires that the venireperson be stricken when challenged for cause. State v. Long, 795 S.W.2d 598, 602 (Mo. App. 1990).

When someone has expressed doubts about her ability to set aside her bias and decide that case on the laws and the evidence without a predisposition against one the parties, she is subject to removal for cause. State v. Houston,803 S.W.2d 195, 197 (Mo. App. 1991).

When a prospective juror has made unequivocal statements of bias or prejudice, that person must be stricken for cause and cannot be rehabilitated by the other side. State v. Edwards, 740 S.W. 2d 237, 243 (Mo. App. 1987) (emphasis added).

It does not save a venireperson that she affirmatively answered affirmatively a coercive leading question about whether she believed she could follow the law and the court’s instructions. State v. Wacaser, 794 S.W.2d 190, 192-94 (Mo. 1990).