Appeals Court Reverses Conviction in 11 Person Jury Trial

By July 3, 2015Jury Trial

12 Persons Required to Serve on Texas Felony Jury Trial – Fort Worth Trial Lawyers

Fort Worth Jury Trial LawyersA felony jury trial in Texas requires 12 jurors (with limited exceptions). The defense can waive that requirement under certain circumstances, and jurors can be excused under certain circumstances. But generally, a felony jury panel must have 12. Below, we discuss a case in Denton County where the jury started with 12 and then went to 11 because a juror could not understand the English language well enough to serve.

Stillwell v. State – Opinion issued by the 2nd District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) on May 28, 2015

Appellant, Eben Stilwell was convicted in the 367th District Court in Denton County by an 11-person jury of indecency with a child and sentenced to 12 years in prison. A jury of 12 was originally empaneled but after three days of testimony, one of the jurors came forward and informed the court that he was having difficulty understanding the proceedings. The juror primarily spoke Spanish and was having difficulty following the proceedings because they were in English.

During the conversation between the judge and the juror, the juror repeatedly said “I understand a little bit” or “I don’t understand.” Both the defense and state agreed that the juror did not adequately understand the English language and was not completely following what was going on in the courtroom.

The prosecution and defense disagreed, however, as to the legal basis for the juror’s removal. The state urged that juror be deemed “disabled” under Tex.Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 36.29(a), which would allow the trial to proceed with 11 jurors over defense objection. The defense argued that because the juror was never able to serve, he was disqualified and a trial using 11 jurors could only proceed with the defendant’s consent. The defendant did not consent to continuing the trial with only 11 jurors. The trial court followed that state’s recommendation and dismissed the juror as disabled, continuing the trial with only 11 jurors.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth), Justice Sudderth writing the opinion for the court, held that the court could have allowed the juror to remain on the jury because the right to have him excluded due to his inability to understand English had been forfeited. It is always the attorneys‘ duty to determine that capability and fitness of the jurors during voir dire. Neither party inquired as to ability to understand the English language.

But, once the court determined that the juror should be dismissed, consent of the defendant was required to proceed with 11 jurors. Because appellant did not agree to proceed with 11 jurors, a mistrial was required. The lower court was reversed.

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