State v. Biegenwald

126 N.J. 1

 

RULE:

Counsel must be afforded the opportunity for a thorough voir dire to evaluate and assess jurors' attitudes in order to effectively participate in jury selection. If counsel is unable to screen out prejudice and bias, that inevitably leads to unfair juries. This result -- or the possibility of this result -- cannot be tolerated. 

FACTS:

Following remand from an earlier appeal, the trial court conducted a new sentencing proceeding. The trial court denied a request of one of defendant's counsel to withdraw. The trial court denied the state's motion for an order that allowed use of defendant's prior conviction for murder in a unrelated case. The trial court also denied defendant's motion that the jury be charged separately on six proffered bases for the catch-all mitigating factor under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:11-3C(5)(h). Defendant contended that the he had not been convicted of capital murder because there had been no guilt phase jury finding of a specific intent to kill or a finding that the murder was committed by defendant's own conduct. Defendant also contended that the trial court erred when it did not change venue on its own motion and that the voir dire for the resentencing proceeding was inadequate. The court reversed defendant's life sentence and remanded. 

ISSUE:

Did the trial court's ruling deny defendant's constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The court reversed and remanded for a new resentencing proceeding because the death-qualification process of the voir dire was inadequate to ensure defendant's constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury.

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