- 09 Oct
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Rules that Jurors can be asked about anti-gay bias
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has overturned a verdict from Judge James King of the Southern District of Florida, saying that jurors can be questioned about potential bias against homosexuals. Judge King had previously refused to allow that type of question in a case involving a man named Raymond Berthiaume and a police officer named David Smith.
The case involved an interaction between Berthiaume and a former partner, Nelson Jimenez. As the two left a bar, Jimenez allegedly grabbed Berthiaume’s keys and ran away on foot. Berthiaume chased after, catching the attention of Officer Smith and others. The officers later said that they thought they were witnessing a fight between the two, although admitted that they saw little physical contact. The officers then ran to catch up with Berthiaume and Jimenez, and Officer Smith pushed Berthiaume in the shoulder, causing him to fall to the ground. This ultimately led to Berthiaume suffering a fractured wrist and jaw which later required surgery.
Berthiaume sued the city of Key West and Officer Smith, alleging counts of excessive force, false arrest, and battery, among other claims. The jury ultimately ruled in favor of the city and Officer Smith, but the Eleventh Circuit allowed the possibility of a new trial after learning of the fact that the judge refused to ask potential jurors the question “Do you harbor any biases or prejudices against persons who are gay or homosexual?”
The Eleventh Circuit, in a released opinion, stated that “the district court abused its discretion by failing to inquire about prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation.” As well, the Court stated that since the topic of Berthiaume’s homosexual relationship was the focus of the case, and that police characterized the fight as a domestic dispute, there was a substantial chance that potential prejudices may have influenced the jury’s original decision.
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