Contempt by a Juror

Allegations of indirect criminal contempt can take place in a variety of settings. One type of contempt is concealment or misstatement by a juror during a voir dire examination.

Concealment or misstatement by a juror upon a voir dire examination is punishable as a contempt if its tendency and design are to obstruct the processes of justice. Clark v. United States, 289 U.S. 1, 10, 53 S.Ct. 465, 77 L.Ed. 993 (1933).

The Court in Clark explained that “[i]f the answers to the questions are willfully evasive or knowingly untrue, the talesman, when accepted, is a juror in name only. His relation to the court and to the parties is tainted in its origin; it is a mere pretense and sham.” Id. at 11, 53 S.Ct. 465.

Thus to the court, the “cause of false swearing and concealment” is a “means whereby to accomplish … acceptance as a juror, and under cover of that relation obstruct the course of justice.” Id.

In DeMartin v. State, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D797 (Fla. 4th DCA Mar. 30, 2016), reh’g denied (Apr. 27, 2016), competent substantial evidence supported a contempt conviction for concealing and failing to disclose the defendant’s ex-wife’s DUI arrest. The trial court found the defendant was willfully dishonest when answering “questions regarding the effects that alcohol had on his loved ones and his attitudes towards them, also was not candid, or was willfully deceitful about criminal history….” Significantly, the state presented evidence that appellant had contacted his ex-wife during the trial and specifically asked her about her DUI arrest.

In Forbes v. State, 933 So.2d 706 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006), a prospective juror answered “no” when asked if he or anyone in his family had ever been arrested and if he had any criminal charges pending against him. The state discovered that the prospective juror had a prior arrest and a pending criminal charge. The prospective juror then admitted that he had been arrested for felony possession of marijuana. After initially denying that anyone in his family had ever been arrested, he also admitted that his father had been arrested. This court affirmed the prospective juror’s conviction for direct criminal contempt and sentenced him to four months in jail.

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This article was last updated on Friday, May 26, 2023.