Supreme Court of South Carolina Decision 10/8/2014

scsctState v. Coaxum involved an appeal by the State to reverse the Court of Appeals’ reversal of the trial court’s conviction of Coaxum.   The Supreme Court defined the issue that it faced as “[w]hether the trial court abused its discretion in removing Juror #7 for her unintentional failure to disclose her relationship with Respondent’s family member during voir dire?” 

Coaxum was arrested and tried for the armed robbery of a Pizza Hut.  Before the trial actually commenced, the court asked the assembled panel “[a]re there any members of the jury panel related [by] blood or marriage, socially or casually connected with [Respondent], or that have any business dealings, any connection whatsoever?”  All jurors responded “no” and were seated along with two alternates.

After the trial began, Juror #7 recognized one of Coaxum’s family members, sitting in court.  She alerted the judge and a discussion then ensued.  While the juror assured the judge that she could be impartial despite the relationship, the State’s solicitor disagreed.

The State’s solicitor asked that Juror #7 be removed from the trial.  The solicitor maintained that he would have exercised a remaining peremptory challenge against Juror #7 had he known of the existence of the relationship.  Coaxum’s attorney disagreed, arguing that there was no need to replace the juror and that alternate jurors were often inattentive.

The trial court acknowledged that the failure to disclose was unintentional but did replace Juror #7 with an alternative juror.  Coaxum was convicted and appealed.  The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed Coaxum’s conviction and remanded for a new trial.  The State then appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of South Carolina.

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, noting “[w]e have previously held that a new trial is required ‘only when the court finds the juror intentionally concealed the information and that the information concealed would have supported a challenge for cause or would have been a material factor in the use of the party’s peremptory challenges….As stated, supra, to receive a new trial, the defendant must show a prejudicial abuse of discretion….As there is no question the jury was impartial after Juror #7’s removal, Respondent did not meet his burden, and therefore is not entitled to a new trial….[W]e reverse the court of appeals decision reversing Respondent’s convictions.”

About Lisa Smith-Butler

Associate Professor of Law Charleston School of Law 385 Meeting St., Suite 322B Charleston, S.C. 29403 843.377.2144
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