Brief Fact Summary. Lawsuit involved a question of the disqualification of a juror based on bias or prejudice in a child custody case tried before a jury.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Bias, the inclination toward one side or another and pre-judgment prejudice, toward any parties or subject matter, are bases for the disqualification of a juror. However, to disqualify, it must appear that the state of mind of the juror leads to the natural inference that they will not or did not act with impartiality.
The mother and Plaintiff, Billie Charlene Flowers (Plaintiff) and the father and Defendant, R.A. Flowers, Jr. (Defendant), were involved in a child custody suit that took place in a small town where many members of the community were familiar with the case and its litigants. During voire dire, jurors were asked whether evidence showing Plaintiff was a social drinker would alone influence the juror’s determination as to who should have custody. The juror in question, Mrs. Schmidt, vehemently stated she was against the consumption of alcohol, but that she could be impartial even if the evidence showed Plaintiff got drunk a few times. The court overruled the challenge of the juror for cause. An affidavit of a fellow juror stated that Mrs. Schmidt made comments about how she felt sorry for the Defendant and admired him and that the Plaintiff had run out on the Defendant once before. These statements were made to other prospective jurors before Mrs. Schmidt was chosen and sworn to
serve as a juror. At the motion for mistrial and motion for new trial based on the affidavit, the judge refused to hear the juror’s affidavit testimony. On the hearing for the motion for a new trial, the Plaintiff claimed that there were other jurors she did not like, including Mrs. Schmidt. Had Mrs. Schmidt revealed her true feelings about her partiality, the Plaintiff would have used a peremptory challenge on her rather than another juror.
Issue. Whether the factual bias and prejudice of a juror and her prejudgment of the case could lead to the natural inference that she could not have acted with impartiality.
Held. Yes. The court abused its discretion by refusing to disqualify a juror who was biased and prejudiced during her voire dire questioning. Judgment of the trial court reversed and remanded for a new trial.
Discussion. If under the facts of this case, bias or prejudice was a fact to be determined by the trial court, that fact would be proven clearly through the examination of the record. The record clearly showed that Mrs. Schmidt showed bias and prejudice toward Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s alcoholic consumption during voire dire. When Mrs. Schmidt had answered “yes” to the leading question as to her ability to be impartial, taken in context with the facts of the case, she did not answer the question truthfully.