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Miami v. Cornett

Court of Appeal of Florida, Third District

January 29, 1985

No. 81-85


 [*400]  The sole question on this appeal is whether ] the exercise of peremptory challenges in civil proceedings is subject to the rule announced in State v. Neil, 457 So.2d 481 (Fla. 1984), a criminal case, that both parties may challenge the alleged improper use of peremptory challenges to exclude from jury service prospective jurors solely on the basis of race. 1 We conclude that the principle upon which Neil is founded--that parties have a right to an impartial jury--applies with equal force to a civil jury [**2]  trial. We thus unhesitatingly affirm the order under review.

 Charles Cornett, a black man, instituted suit against the City of Miami and two of its police officers for damages sustained when he was shot in the back while [**3]  being apprehended by the officers. This alleged use of excessive force left Cornett totally paralyzed from the waist down. An all-white jury returned a verdict for the defendants.

The trial judge granted Cornett a new trial, setting forth his reasons in a written order from which this appeal is taken. The order states in pertinent part:

"This trial commenced shortly after verdicts had been returned in two other much publicized cases. In the latter of the two cases, the county's school superintendent, a black, was indicted, suspended from office, then convicted of grand theft. The Superintendent was tried before an all-white jury after a number of blacks had been challenged peremptorily. In the earlier case, an all-white jury acquitted several white officers of murder and manslaughter charges in the beating death of a black insurance agent - the infamous 'McDuffie Case'. All prospective black jurors had been challenged, some for cause, most peremptorily. Moments following the verdict in that case there was a civil disturbance in the community resulting in millions of dollars of property damage and several deaths. Those killed included whites and blacks, and in a few [**4]  instances the motives were clearly racial. Judicial notice is taken of these background circumstances as they shed light on community tensions in general at the time of this trial and the probable effect on the conduct of this trial. Some white prospective jurors admitted that they couldn't be fair. At least one admitted to being fearful and asked to be excused.

"At a pre-trial conference the parties were limited to four challenges each. Afterwards the venire was seated with four blacks among their number. Counsel for the plaintiff then approached the bench to voice a premature objection to the defendant's exercise of his peremptory challenges to remove black members of the venire. The objection was raised again during the jury selection process and again after the last challenge had been exercised. As was predicted by plaintiff, defense counsel exercised each of its four peremptory challenges against blacks thereby insuring an all-white jury.  [*401]  The objections were eventually overruled without a hearing.

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463 So. 2d 399 *; 1985 Fla. App. LEXIS 12111 **; 10 Fla. L. Weekly 283


Subsequent History:  [**1]  Rehearing Denied March 5, 1985.

Prior History:  An Appeal from a non-final order from the Circuit Court for Dade County, Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., Judge.


peremptory, impartial, jurors

Civil Procedure, Trials, Jury Trials, Right to Jury Trial, Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Rights, Trial by Jury in Civil Actions, Criminal Law & Procedure, Challenges to Jury Venire, Equal Protection Challenges, Tests for Equal Protection Violations, Jurors, Selection, General Overview, Voir Dire, Juries & Jurors, Peremptory Challenges, Proving Discriminatory Use, Judicial Officers, Judges, Appellate Review, Judgments, Relief From Judgments, Motions for New Trials, Voir Dire