Do Appeals to Racial Bias Made Openly Among the Jurors Constitute Overt Acts of Misconduct ?
In Powell v. Allstate Insurance Co., 652 So. 2d 354 (Fla. 1995), the Court also addressed a claim of racial or ethnic bias as allegedly reflected in statements made by jurors concerning the litigants involved in a case, and whether those statements constituted overt juror misconduct which could be the subject of inquiry after a verdict is returned, or whether such conduct "inhered in the verdict."
In holding that such comments constituted overt acts of misconduct, this Court explained:
In the instant case, we find the alleged racial statements made by some of the jurors to constitute sufficient "overt acts" to permit trial court inquiry and action.
Under Maler and Hamilton, it would be improper, after a verdict is rendered, to individually inquire into the thought processes of a juror to seek to discover some bias in the juror's mind, like the racial bias involved here, as a possible motivation for that particular juror to as act as she did.
Those innermost thoughts, good and bad, truly inhere in the verdict.
But when appeals to racial bias are made openly among the jurors, they constitute overt acts of misconduct.
This is one way that we attempt to draw a bright line.
This line may not keep improper bias from being a silent factor with a particular juror, but, hopefully, it will act as a check on such bias and prevent the bias from being expressed so as to overtly influence others. Id. at 357-58.
This Court emphasized that "the issue of racial, ethnic, and religious bias in the courts is not simply a matter of 'political correctness' to be brushed aside by a thick-skinned judiciary." Id. at 358.
Accordingly, the Court remanded the case with instructions for the trial court to conduct an appropriate hearing to ascertain whether racial statements were made as asserted. See id.;
See also Wright v. CTL Distribution, Inc., 650 So. 2d 641, 643 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995) (stating that appellants, at the very least, must have an opportunity to determine the truth or falsity of juror's allegation in affidavit that racial slurs and comments were made during deliberations).