Florida’s First District Court of Appeal hears the appeals for circuit court cases in Northeast Florida, including Jacksonville. It recently rendered a decision important for all trial lawyers in the state.
In a criminal case, dury jury selection, one of the venire (the pool of potential jurors) stated that he or she thought the accused had a prior criminal record. This was said in front of all of the other potential jurors. Obviously, for the attorney representing the defendant, this is an extremely damaging statement, whether it is true or not. Otherwise, the jury would most likely never be aware of the defendant’s prior convictions. The prejudice that can result from this is obvious.
The defendant’s attorney objected and asked the judge to strike the entire venire and start over with a new group of potential jurors. The court denied the motion. After the remainder of jury selection took place, the jurors were sworn in to serve. Prior to being sworn in the defense attorney did not renew the objection, perhaps believing that the prior objection sufficed.
Unfortunately for this defendant, the law in Florida requires that any objection to the jurors selected must be renewed prior to the panel being sworn in or else the objection is waived. As such, this jury was allowed to decide the case having heard that the defendant had a prior criminal record. The defendant was convicted. The appellate court held that the conviction could not be reversed because a second objection just prior to the jury being sworn in was not made. In my opinion, had that technicality been satisfied – the appellate court would have overturned the conviction.
This case highlights the many pitfalls in trying cases and the many hypertechnical details that can make the difference between justice and travesty. Trial is an extremely dynamic process that presents a minefield of potential errors that can subvert true justice from taking place. The burden on a trial lawyer is immense. The lawyer cannot lose focus for a second during trial – a difficult task, especially considering the long hours spent each day and night handling a multitude of details.
Because of these difficulties, we find the old adage “two heads are better than one” to be especially true in trial work. Any case worth trying is worth trying with two lawyers. There are always things one lawyer picks up on that the other attorney did not. When hiring a lawyer for your injury, insurance or nursing home case, ask whether he or she tries cases singlehandedly. Having more than one lawyer try your case could help prevent an unfortunate circumstance like the one experienced by the defendant in the above-referenced criminal case.
Having two lawyers does not increase the expense to clients in cases in which the clieint hired their attorney on a contingency basis – the percentage is the percentage regardless of the number of attorneys working on the case.