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Saturday, March 12, 2011

For Any Case, Asking Whether or Not a Panelist Can Follow the Law Is Allowable

The Texas Supreme Court, in a per curiam opinion, reversed and remanded a sexually-violent-predator-civil-commitment trial because the judge refused to allow proper voir dire questions. First, respondent's counsel wanted to ask potential jurors if they could give a fair trial to a person that the evidence would show had committed a number of homosexual acts, even though some veniremembers said that they would have trouble being fair to such a person. The judge disallowed such questions.
The second disallowed question won't make sense without a little background. For a person to be committed as a sexually violent predator, the State must show that the person committed two qualifying sex crimes and additionally that the person has a qualifying behavioral abnormality. The question that respondent's counsel wanted to ask was if a panelist wouldn't commit the respondent on the basis of the two sex crimes without requiring the State to prove the behavioral abnormality. Again the judge disallowed.
The Texas Supremes held that asking about anti-gay prejudice in a case like this helped to establish whether or not the jurors would decide the case on the law and the evidence. Asking panelists whether or not they would put the State to its legally required proof, they added, was always allowable.

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