Matarranz v. State

Decision Date26 September 2013
Docket NumberNo. SC11–1617.,SC11–1617.
Citation133 So.3d 473
PartiesRafael MATARRANZ, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court


Carlos J. Martinez, Public Defender, and Robert Kalter, Assistant Public Defender, Miami, FL, for Petitioner.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL; Richard L. Polin, Bureau Chief, and Douglas J. Glaid, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Miami, FL; for Respondent.


In his final remarks to the jury, Atticus Finch, the heroic protagonist of Harper Lee's iconic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, proclaims

I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 205 (Warner Books, Inc., 1960). The case before us today addresses the very heart in which Atticus's faith roots—the integrity of our courts, the soundness of our juries, and the men and women who “make [them] up.” Id. The petitioner, Rafael Matarranz, seeks review of the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal in Matarranz v. State, 99 So.3d 534 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011), in which he alleges a violation of his due process rights occurred because his trial was not conducted before a fair and impartial tribunal of his peers. We have jurisdiction on the basis that the decision of the Third District expressly and directly conflicts with the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Huber v. State, 669 So.2d 1079 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996), on a question of law. Seeart. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const.

Maintaining the sanctity of the jury trial is both critical and integral to the preservation of a fair and honest judicial system. It is also significant to the trust and confidence our citizens place in the judicial system. “The jury is an essential instrumentality—an appendage—of the court, the body ordained to pass upon guilt or innocence.” Sinclair v. U.S., 279 U.S. 749, 765, 49 S.Ct. 471, 73 L.Ed. 938 (1929). Without the [e]xercise of calm and informed judgment” by the jury, we cannot expect “proper enforcement of law.” Id. Consequently, a failure to ensure that our jury panels are comprised of only fair and impartial members renders suspect any verdict reached.

Matarranz, who was found guilty of first-degree murder and burglary, Matarranz, 99 So.3d at 534–35, alleges that the trial court's failure to remove a prospective juror (the Juror) for cause resulted in a denial of his right to a fair and impartial jury as guaranteed by article 1, section 16, of the Florida Constitution and the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Third District disagreed with Matarranz and affirmed the decision of the trial court because the district court agreed that the Juror was competent to serve. See id. at 535.

Upon review, however, we disagree with the court below and hold that the Juror demonstrated that she could not fulfill her role as a fair and impartial arbiter and thus she should have been excused for cause. Accordingly, we quash the decision of the Third District, remand this case for a new trial, and clarify the law surrounding peremptory challenges and the removal of jurors for cause.


The entirety of the interactions between the trial court, the prosecutor, the defense, and the Juror are excerpted below.1 The trial court began voir dire by providing prospective jurors with a general overview of criminal trial procedures and stating the charges against the defendant. The trial court then asked whether any of the charges “makes any of you [prospective jurors] think that you just could not be a fair juror....” Along with other jurors, the Juror raised her hand and responded that she could not be a fair juror because of reservations she held with regard to the defendant's burglary charge.

Later, the trial court initiated questioning with the Juror and the following exchange transpired:

THE COURT: [Juror], I wanted to follow-up with you. You had answered a question about the fact that this is a burglary case and it had to do with whether or not you thought you could be a fair juror in this case. Tell me what you are thinking.

JUROR: It is just from past experiences. I have been the victim of burglaries like my house when I was younger and also I wrote down that my cousin was a victim of fraud and like trying to cash fake checks and it wasn't really his fault and everything that happened with that and how it affected my family, that still affected me and I hold a grudge on that and he was pretty much fleeing from whoever that guy was taking checks on and my cousin was the unfortunate one that happened to cash it and that stayed on his record and it is something that I hold against him. How it affected me, my parents and my whole family. I don't think I could be fair against [Matarranz] because I hold that grudge.

THE COURT: The grudge that you hold is against someone who violates the law?

JUROR: Right.

THE COURT: But the law holds a grudge on people who violate the law once a person is convicted of violating the law, if a person is convicted and it is in my division, it is my job to sentence the victim but I hear what you are saying, but I want to make sure that you understand that this trial would not be about whether or not it is okay to have a grudge against people who commit crimes. The question is going to be was a crime committed and if it was committed whether Mr. Matarranz is the one that committed it; you understand that?


THE COURT: Well, for example you told me it was your brother?

JUROR: My cousin.

THE COURT: Who was cashing checks and he ended up getting accused of something that he in fact didn't do?

JUROR: Yes. He had no idea about it.

THE COURT: So, you don't hold a grudge against people who are accused of something that they didn't do?

JUROR: No. It is just—I don't know how it affected like—I don't know—it is something that just stays there. I know how it affected us and how everything happened. It was during the holiday season and it was just crazy and it just makes me sad about it and it brings back bad memories.

THE COURT: And I thank you and when you have the bad memories come back since you are approaching the holidays and this is going to be a burglary case, when you look over at these two tables which way does your judgment go, if you feel like you have one?

JUROR: Towards him.

THE COURT: And you are indicating towards the defense table?

JUROR: Yeah.

THE COURT: Let me ask the lawyers, if they have any questions?

PROSECUTOR: You have not heard any evidence yet with regard to Mr. Matarranz, right?


PROSECUTOR: Are you able to listen to the testimony and the evidence in this case with an opened mind?

JUROR: I could have an open mind about it, but it is still—knowing myself I think I would lean more towards the State of Florida just because I don't think that it is right for someone to come in and take something that someone worked so hard for and take their life away from that person.

PROSECUTOR: Can you follow the judge's law and the law in the State of Florida and say I know that I favor the defendant, because he looks like a family member or I favor the State because I want to be a State Attorney when I grow up. The question is, can you follow the law and not say I'm going to be more for the defendant or more for the State and just sit here and listen to the evidence and make the State prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt, because that is what we have to do?


PROSECUTOR: So my question is, can you do that even though you may feel more sympathetic particular towards one side or the other. Can you put aside your feelings and sit here with an open mind and see whether or not the State of Florida at the end of the case has proved the charges of murder in the first degree against the defendant, can you do that honestly?

JUROR: Yes, I think I could. Just like you say maybe I would lean a little more to one side, but I would have to hear everything before I can actually make a decision.

PROSECUTOR: You can't lean. That is what you are saying when you say I think you are going to make the State nervous ... and you are going to make [defense counsel] nervous. You can't say I think. My question, can you put aside your feelings for the State or the feelings for the defendant, put them aside if you are selected as a juror and listen to the evidence that comes forward on the case and make a determination at the conclusion of all the evidence as to whether or not the State of Florida has proved these two charges against the defendant. Can you do that, honestly?


THE COURT: Thank you....

DEFENSE COUNSEL: I'm confused. I'm sorry.... You started telling your honor that you couldn't do what you just told the prosecutor that you are going to do.

JUROR: I can put it aside but, it is just that with my past experiences—I have an old mind in all things and I know that I can do it. It is just that I rather not, just because—I mean, put it aside, but I can have an open mind and put all my feelings aside....

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Are those feelings going to make it easier for the State to secure a conviction against Mr. Matarranz, if you sit as a juror in this case?

JUROR: I would have to hear—like I would have to hear the whole thing.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: What are you going to require me to do?

PROSECUTOR: Judge, I'm going to object.

THE COURT: Sustained....

DEFENSE COUNSEL: These feelings that you have right [ ] now that you are leaning towards the State because of your prior experiences, would you explain those prior experiences, please.

JUROR: No prior experience, just like I explained to the judge, I had a cousin.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Tell me about the burglary?

JUROR: The burglary was when I was younger, someone broke into my house...

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28 cases
  • Jackson v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • March 23, 2017
    ...such reasonable doubt exists, the trial court should consider the context and entirety of the juror's responses. See Matarranz v. State , 133 So.3d 473, 484 (Fla. 2013) ; Kopsho , 959 So.2d at 170. A reviewing appellate court should ensure that the record provides support in the form of any......
  • Salazar v. State
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    • Florida Supreme Court
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    ...and requested more that were denied, and identify a specific juror that he or she would have excused if possible.’ " Matarranz v. State, 133 So.3d 473, 482 (Fla.2013) (quoting Kearse v. State, 770 So.2d 1119, 1128 (Fla.2000) ). And "[w]hen a trial court denies or grants a peremptory challen......
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    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • November 6, 2019
    ...questions presented to him." Id. (emphasis added) (citations omitted). Further, the Florida Supreme Court explained in Matarranz v. State, 133 So. 3d 473, 489 (Fla. 2013) that[t]he true test of the fixedness of an opinion in the mind of a juror is not whether the opinion will readily yield ......
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    • Florida Supreme Court
    • May 11, 2017
    ...and requested more that were denied, and identify a specific juror that he or she would have excused if possible.' " Matarranz v. State, 133 So.3d 473, 482 (Fla. 2013) (quoting Kearse v. State, 770 So.2d 1119, 1128 (Fla. 2000) ). "[I]t is the objection/re-objection process ... that is the d......
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3 books & journal articles
  • Preliminaries
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Trial Objections
    • May 5, 2022
    ...the same insurer involved in current action, and that if the evidence was “50/50,” he would likely favor motorist. Matarranz v. State , 133 So.3d 473, 489 (Fla. 2013). Trial court erred when it failed to apply Singer’s rule of law, which provides that, if there is a reasonable basis to doub......
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    ...challenges for cause regarding jurors who indicate that they might be prejudiced against persons who commit crimes.) Matarranz v. State, 133 So. 3d 473 (Fla. 2013) The court has great discretion in deciding whether to grant or deny a challenge for cause based on juror competency, because th......
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    • November 1, 2020
    ...(7) Kearse v. State, 770 So. 2d 1119, 1128 (Fla. 2000); Vega v. State, 781 So. 2d 1165, 1168 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001). (8) Matarranz v. State, 133 So. 3d 473, 484 (Fla. 2013); see also James v. State, 731 So. 2d 781 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999) ("If prospective juror's statements raise a reasonable doubt r......

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