Under Delaware’s Constitution, all of the fundamental features of the jury system as they existed at common law have been preserved for civil and criminal cases.34 One fundamental element of the right to a trial by jury is the right to a jury consisting of impartial and indifferent jurors.35
The requirement of impartial jurors means that the jurors do not have a relationship with a party or counsel in the case or persons with an indirect interest in the case which would disqualify a juror because of a presumed bias arising from the relationship.36 If a juror has some relationship to the parties or counsel or some other interest in the matter that would disable the juror from giving fair consideration to the evidence presented, such juror would not be deemed impartial and would be subject to disqualification.
Law enforcement officers are not automatically disqualified from serving as jurors in criminal cases. However, where a correctional officer works on a floor in the prison where the defendant is situated, and is responsible for preventing violence in the area of the defendant’s incarceration, the risk that the officer could convict the defendant as a deterrent for future hostile activity in the facility where the officer works renders such individual’s service as a juror a threat to the fairness of the trial.36.1
The requirement of impartial jurors does not mean that each juror must be completely ignorant of the facts and issues involved in a particular case, as such a requirement would be practically unattainable. Rather, a jury will be deemed fair and impartial if the jurors state that they are capable of laying aside any preconceptions they may have and rendering a verdict based on the evidence presented in court.37
The impartiality of the jury is compromised when, during trial, counsel for a criminal defendant states, against the defendant’s wishes, that the defendant is guilty but mentally ill, as no jury will give fair consideration to a defendant’s plea of not guilty, his sworn denial of guilt, or enforce the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, when a defendant’s own counsel act against his wishes and argues he is guilty, introduces evidence that incriminates him, and thereby prove his eligibility for a death sentence.37.1
34. Del. Const. art. I, §§ 4, 7; Claudio v. State, 585 A.2d 1278, 1298, 1301 (Del. 1991); Jackson v. State, 374 A.2d 1, 2 (Del. 1977); Cahill v. State, 411 A.2d 317, 330 (Del. Super. 1980), rev’d on other grounds, 443 A.2d 497 (Del. 1982). See also Hopkins v. Justice of Peace Court No. 1, 342 A.2d 243 (Del. Super. 1975); Super. Ct. Civ. R. 38(a).
35. Del. Const. art. I, § 7; Copper v. State, 85 A.2d 689, 692-93 (Del. 2014); Banther v. State, 823 A.2d 467, 481 (Del. 2003); Diaz v. State, 743 A.2d 1166, 1179 (Del. 1999); Dawson v. State, 581 A.2d 1078, 1089-90 (Del. 1990), vacated on other grounds, remanded, 503 U.S. 159 (1992); Hughes v. State, 490 A.2d 1034, 1040 (Del. 1985); Jackson v. State, 374 A.2d 1, 2 (Del. 1977).
36. See § 6:7 for a discussion of disqualification based upon relationships of a prospective juror to a party or counsel.
36.1. Hall v. State, 12 A.3d 1123, 1126-27 (Del. 2010).
37. Dawson v. State, 581 A.2d 1078, 1089-90 (Del. 1990), vacated on other grounds, remanded, 503 U.S. 159 (1992); Hughes v. State, 490 A.2d 1034, 1040 (Del. 1985); McBride v. State, 477 A.2d 174, 192 n.19 (Del. 1984). See also 11 Del.C. § 3301.
37.1. Cooke v. State, 977 A.2d 803, 845-47 (Del. 2009), cert. denied, 130 S.Ct. 1506 (2010).
© 2014 David L. Finger