Trial Judge’s “Broad Discretion” in Voir Dire Includes Supplemental Questionnaire (Ortiz v. State)
Juan Ortiz was convicted of first degree murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and arson in the second degree. The jury voted eleven to one to sentence Ortiz to death. This article will primarily review the issue that involves the trial judge’s decision to deny Ortiz the supplemental voir dire questionnaire.
After his conviction, Ortiz appealed and brought up six issues. The issues primarily pertain to questions issues jury questions and certain evidence that was admitted during the trial. For example the victim’s wounds were repeatedly shown to inflame the passions of the jury and because evidence of his past bad acts were discussed during rebuttal in his penalty hearing.
The court affirmed the conviction and found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it made certain evidentiary rulings. This includes the trial court’s denial of the supplemental voir dire questionnaire.
SUPPLEMENTAL VOIR DIRE QUESTIONNAIRE
A forty question voir dire questionnaire was distributed to jurors prior to the trial, the questions were similar to one that had been used in a federal death penalty case. Ortiz asked the court to include twenty-four other questions in a supplemental voir dire questionnaire.
As part of its order, the trial court judge reasoned that “some of the questions in this form are none of the Court’s business.” Some of the questions include: “Do you have an active role in your church?” “Have you ever studied for the ministry, priesthood or any other religious position?” What newspapers and magazines do you normally read?” Please list your hobbies and spare time activities;” “Have you ever had a bumper sticker on your car?”
While the Constitution outlines an impartial trial by jury, it does not outline what a voir dire requires. In Aldridge, the Supreme Court writes that voir dire is within the broad discretion of the trial judge. The outward limits of discretion are drawn at racial or ethnic bias. The court reasons that none of the questions in the proposed supplemental questionnaire were directly related to bias or to prejudice.
DEFENDANT’S PROPOSED SUPPLEMENTAL QUESTIONNAIRE
1. Please check the levels of education completed:
Grade School _ Junior High _ High School _ Vocational/Trade School J_ College _ Professional Schools _ Graduate School___
2. If a graduate of a college or vocational school, what was your major area of study or training? __
3. Have you ever been self-employed? Yes._. No ___
If yes, please describe when and what you did while self-employed: _
4. List significant employment within the past 10 years. Give approximate dates. _
5. Marital Status: _Never Married __Married _Divorced Number of Years___ _Separated .Widowed
6. Number of Children (if any): _ Gii’ls_Boys
7. Please list for each child 18 years or older:
Place of City of Age Occupation Employment Residence
8.Please list organization to which you or your spouse belong or in which either of you participate, either now or in the recent past. For example, religious, political, social, fraternal, service, professional, business, sporting, recreational organizations, and union membership.
9.Any offices held in above organizations:
10. If you are affiliated with a church, temple, synagogue or other religious organization, please give its name and location: _
11. Do you have an active role in your church? Yes_No_
If yes, please explain:
12. Have you ever studied for the ministry, priesthood or any other religious position? Yes_No_
If so, please explain: _
13. Have you or your spouse ever participated in, or contributed money to, any group concerned with crime prevention or victims’ rights (such as Crime Stoppers, Neighborhood Watch Programs, Shelters or Crisis Centers? Yes_ No____
If so, please describe:
14.What newspapers and magazines do you usually read?
15.List any National or Local News programs you frequently watch?
16. If applicable, do you have one or more favorite radio stations? Yes _No_
If so, which ones? _
17. Do you frequently listen to any radio talk shows? Yes_No_
If so, which ones? _
18. Name three favorite television programs that you regularly watch?
19.Please list the types of books or movies you most enjoy:
*31820.Please list your hobbies or spare time activities:
21. Have you ever owned any kind of firearm? Yes_No_
If so, what types of firearm(s) have you owned, and for what purposes do you (did you) own them? ___
22. Have you ever belonged to the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America or any other organization which is concerned with protecting the right to own weapons? Yes_No_
If so, please describe the extent of your participation in the organization: ___
23. Have you ever had bumper stickers on your car? Yes _ No _
If so, what did the bumper sticker(s) say: –
24. Would you describe yourself politically? Pick the spot on the scale which seems correct:
1 2 3 4 5 6 Extremely liberal Extremely conservative
(check if applicable)
_No overall classification fits in my case.
This case provides useful information as it pertains to voir dire, it also provides insight into the scope of the trial court’s discretion as it pertains to voir dire. While there are constitutional boundaries, namely ethnicity, race, or sex in jury selection, the trial judge’s discretion will generally be upheld.