State v. Gargiliana

Decision Date09 June 1953
Docket NumberNo. 10533,10533
Citation138 W.Va. 376,76 S.E.2d 265
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE, v. GARGILIANA.

Syllabus by the Court

1. A defendant upon trial of a felony is entitled to a panel of twenty jurors each free from bias or prejudice before being called upon to exercise his right of peremptory challenges.

2. 'In order that one who has formed or expressed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused may be accepted as a competent juror on such panel, his mind must be in condition to enable him to say on his voir dire unequivocally and without hesitation that such opinion will not affect his judgment in arriving at a just verdict from the evidence alone submitted to the jury on the trial of the case.' Point 3, Syllabus, State v. Johnson, 49 W.Va. 684 .

3. Evidence of a separate and distinct offense can not be admitted upon a trial of a criminal charge, unless the separate and distinct offense tends to establish motive, scheme or intent, then in issue, and is similar, near in point of time, and has some logical connection with the offense for which the defendant is being tried.

John A. Cain, Elkins, for plaintiff in error.

John G. Fox, Atty. Gen., James C. Blanton, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., for defendant in error.

GIVEN, Judge.

Defendant, Salvatore Gargiliana, was convicted before a jury, in the Circuit Court of Randolph County, upon an indictment charging him with having, 'on the ___ day of _____, 1952, * * * unlawfully and wilfully', upon a named person, made 'an assault with intent to unlawfully, feloniously and wilfully commit the detestable and abominable crime against nature, by then and there * * * attempting * * * to feloniously and wilfully have carnal knowledge' of the body of that person, whereby defendant did 'attempt to unlawfully, feloniously and wilfully have carnal knowledge of the body of the said' person, by the anus. The verdict of the jury, properly signed, reads: '7-8-52 Your Honor, we, the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.' A motion of defendant to set aside the verdict, timely made, was overruled, and a judgment was entered sentencing defendant to the state penitentiary for a term 'of one to ten years'. This Court granted a writ of error.

The propositions involved in the several assignments of error made by defendant are: (1) Defendant was not afforded an impartial panel of twenty jurors from which the jurors to try the case could be selected; and (2) the State was permitted to offer evidence of the commission by defendant of numerous separate and distinct violations, for some of which he was then under indictment.

It appears that at the same term of court at which this case was tried, defendant was tried for a different violation, of the same type as that involved in the instant proceeding, and that such trial resulted in failure of the jury to agree upon a verdict. Four of the panel of twenty called in the instant case were in the court room and heard at least part of the evidence offered against defendant at the previous trial. At least one of the four had 'talked it over with several people. Just heard them talk about the case quite a bit. I didn't hear all of the evidence, of course.' This juror was asked by counsel for defendant the following question: 'In that discussion of the case did you formulate an opinion that would be such that you could not render a fair decision or that might bias you in rendering a decision in this case for or against the defendant?'; to which question the juror gave the following answer: 'Well, the only way it would be, maybe I heard something that wouldn't be brought out in the case, or something of that kind. It might be.' The four jurors, being further questioned by the court upon their voir dire, answered to the effect that they had formed no fixed opinion as to the guilt or innocence of defendant. The court refused to strike any of the four jurors from the panel of twenty, and defendant contends that he could not have eliminated any of the four from the panel by exercise of his right of peremptory challenges, for the reason that all of such challenges were used in eliminating other jurors whom he considered even more objectionable.

In State v. Johnson, 49 W.Va. 684, 39 S.E. 665, this Court held:

'2. A person charged by indictment with felony is entitled under the law to a panel of 20 jurors, each and all of whom shall be 'free from exception,' from which panel the jury for the trial of the case is to be selected, under section 3, c. 159, Code.

'3. In order that one who has formed or expressed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused may be accepted as a competent juror on such panel, his mind must be in condition to enable him to say on his voir dire unequivocally and without hesitation that such opinion will not affect his judgment in arriving at a just verdict from the evidence alone submitted to the jury on the trial of the case.'

In State v. Dushman, 79 W.Va. 747, 91 S.E. 809, this Court held: '1. By section 3, c. 159, Code 1913, one accused of a felony is entitled as a matter of right to a panel of twenty jurors, unexceptionable under the rules of the common law, before being called upon to exercise his right of peremptory challenge.' In State v. Schnelle, 24 W.Va. 767, at page 782, the Court stated: '* * * unless the proposed juror understands his own mind on the question, and can promptly say, that it is at that time free from prejudice, and that his mind is entirely free to pass upon the guilt or innocence of the accused upon the evidence submitted to him as such juror, he is not a competent juror and should be ordered to stand aside * * *.' See State v. Messer, 99 W.Va. 241, 1281 S.E. 373, 40 A.L.R. 608; State v. Richards, 101 W.Va. 136, 132 S.E. 375.

The determination of the qualification of a juror is a problem often difficult to solve. The fact sought to be established, whether the juror may be biased or prejudiced, rests alone with the proposed juror, and often he may be unable to honestly determine whether he would be unduly influenced by certain facts or situations in consideration of evidence to be offered. Usually the answer is left to the sound discretion of the trial judge. State v. Beacraft, 126 W.Va. 895, 30 S.E.2d 541; State v. Camp, 110 W.Va. 444, 158 S.E. 664. His experience in such matters, often aided by some knowledge of the character, abilities and habits of the particular juror, coupled with the fact that he observes the demeanor and expressions of the juror on the voir dire examination, are justifiable reasons for vesting wide discretion in him. The decisions usually hold, however, that the answer of a prospective juror, upon his voir dire examination, to the effect that he is not prejudiced or biased, is not controlling. In 50 C.J.S., Juries, § 241, it is stated: 'A juror's statement as to whether or not he has an opinion and whether or not it will affect his verdict is not conclusive on the question of his competency.' In State v. Camp, 110 W.Va. 444, 158 S.E. 664, we held: '2. The fact that a venireman has expressed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused is not controlling in determining the qualification of such venireman to sit as a juror in the trial. The deciding factor is whether without bias or prejudice he can render a verdict solely on the evidence, under the court's instructions, disregarding any prior opinion which he may have entertained.' See State v. Beacraft, 126 W.Va. 895, 30 S.E.2d 541; State v. Dephenbaugh, 106 W.Va. 289, 145 S.E. 634; State v. Richards, 101 W.Va. 136, 132 S.E. 375; State v. Larue, 98 W.Va. 677, 128 S.E. 116; State v. Toney, 98 W.Va. 236, 127 S.E. 35; State v. Hatfield, 48 W.Va. 561, 37 S.E. 626.

One of the four jurors who were permitted to try the case over the objection of defendant, stated, concerning the charge for which defendant was being tried, that he had 'talked it over with several people'. When asked whether he might have become biased against defendant by reason of what he had heard, he answered: 'Well, the only way it would be, maybe I heard something that wouldn't be brought out in the case, or something of that kind. It might be.' These statements show doubt in the mind of the juror. The statements, coupled with the fact that defendant had heard part of the evidence given at the prior trial and with the fact that three other jurors had heard part of such evidence, make it clear, we think, that these four jurors should have been discharged from the panel of twenty. At least, we think, it was prejudicial error to permit the juror whose statements are quoted above to serve at the trial. Having expressed doubt as to whether he might be influenced by what he had heard, his denial of any fixed opinion should not have been permitted to control the determination of his competency.

The State, in introducing its evidence in chief, introduced five witnesses, each of whom testified to the fact that defendant, on numerous occasions, had committed with them the precise type of violation as that charged in the indictment upon which defendant was being tried, for some of which offenses defendant was then under indictment. Apparently some of such violations were committed prior, and some subsequent, to the date of the violation for which defendant was then being tried. The State contended, at the time of the trial, that such evidence was admissible 'to show a series of acts occurring over a period of time'. The State now contends that the evidences was admissible as tending to show 'a scheme or system of action to show the defendant had a tendency to commit certain acts'. The trial court at first rejected the evidence so offered, but later admitted it, and instructed the jury, in relation thereto, as follows: 'Gentlemen of the jury, at the recess a short time ago an objection was made, which was sustained by the Court, to the admission of certain...

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