OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FOURTH CIRCUIT, PARISH
state's writ application was granted to consider whether
the court of appeal erred in reversing defendant's
conviction, finding that the trial judge abused his
discretion in denying a challenge for cause of a prospective
juror. During voir dire, the prospective juror gave
an equivocal answer as to whether she could be impartial
after indicating her mother had been the victim of a violent
crime. The record of the voir dire proceeding is
bereft of any information that would clarify the prospective
juror's response, and the remainder of her responses
during voir dire indicate that she would be
impartial. As such, deference should have been afforded by
the appellate court to the trial court's ruling on the
challenge. For the reasons that follow, the decision of the
appellate court is reversed, and this matter is remanded to
the appellate court for determination of the remaining issue
raised on appeal by defendant.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
1994, K.T. was crossing the street in eastern New Orleans
when a man she recognized as someone who had worked with her
mother in the past called her to his car. When she walked
over, she saw a gun on his lap. He ordered her to get into
the car and then drove to a wooded area where he forced K.T.
to engage in sexual intercourse. K.T. reported the incident
and underwent a sexual assault exam, but the police
investigation did not lead to any suspects.
1996, H.B. was at home when a man came to the door and asked
to speak to her brother. She recognized the man as someone to
whom her brother had previously given money. The man claimed
that he wanted to thank H.B.'s brother for the money.
Later, when H.B's brother left for work, the man returned
and claimed that he was locked out of his house. He asked
H.B. to make a telephone call for him, and, when she returned
to tell him the number did not work, he forced his way into
the house and sexually assaulted her. H.B. reported the crime
and underwent a sexual assault examination, but the police
investigation did not yield any suspects.
2010, while investigating unsolved rape cases, a detective of
the police force searched the national DNA data base (CODIS)
and discovered that DNA from both cases matched that of
Derrick A. Dotson (defendant). The state subsequently charged
defendant with two counts of aggravated rape. The jury found
defendant guilty of the 1996 forcible rape of H.B., but could
not reach a verdict as to the charge involving K.T. The court
sentenced defendant as a third felony offender to life
imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole,
probation, or suspension of sentence.
court of appeal majority reversed defendant's conviction,
finding the trial court abused its discretion by denying
defendant's challenge for cause of a prospective juror
after defendant exhausted all of his peremptory challenges.
State v. Dotson, 15-0191, p. 8 (La.App. 4 Cir.
12/17/16), 187 So.3d 79, 83-84. At issue was whether the
prospective juror, whose mother had been raped and murdered,
could be impartial. When asked by the trial court if the
circumstances related to her mother's death had any
bearing on her ability to be impartial, she stated,
"Yes, it might." No direct follow-up questions were
asked by the trial court, the state, or the defense as to
this particular response. Although the prospective juror was
not asked to, and did not, provide any additional insight to
this particular response, the appellate court found that
"bias, prejudice, or the inability to render judgment
according to law can be reasonably implied" from her
initial response. Dotson, 15-0191 at 8, 187 So.3d at
84. Accordingly, the trial court was found to have abused its
discretion by denying defendant's challenge for cause.
state's writ application was granted to determine if the
trial court abused its discretion in finding that defendant
failed to prove that the prospective juror was not impartial.
State v. Dotson, 16-0473 (La. 3/24/17), 216 So.3d
Constitution article I, section 17 guarantees a defendant the
"right to full voir dire examination of prospective
jurors and to challenge jurors peremptorily." State
v. Juniors, 03-2425, p. 7 (La. 6/29/05), 915 So.2d 291,
304. The number of peremptory challenges granted to a
defendant in a trial of an offense punishable necessarily by
imprisonment at hard labor, such as the one currently before
this court,  is fixed by law at twelve. See
La. Const. art. I, § 17(A); La. C.Cr.P. art.
When a defendant uses all twelve of his peremptory
challenges, an erroneous ruling by a trial court on a
challenge for cause that results in depriving the defendant
of a peremptory challenge constitutes a substantial violation
of the defendant's constitutional and statutory rights,
requiring reversal of the conviction and sentence.
Juniors, 03-2425 at 7-8, 915 So.2d at 304;
see La. C.Cr.P. art. 921 ("A judgment or ruling
shall not be reversed by an appellate court because of any
error, defect, irregularity, or variance which does not
affect substantial rights of the accused."). Therefore,
prejudice is presumed when a challenge for cause has been
erroneously denied by a trial court and the defendant
exhausts all peremptory challenges statutorily afforded to
the defendant. Juniors, 03-2425 at 8, 915 So.2d
at 305 (citing State v. Robertson, 92-2660, p. 3
(La. 1/14/94), 630 So.2d 1278, 1280, and State v.
Ross, 623 So.2d 643, 644 (La. 1993)). In summary, where
all peremptory challenges have been used, as in this case, a
defendant need only demonstrate the erroneous denial of a
challenge for cause to establish reversible error warranting
reversal of a conviction and sentence. See
Juniors, 03-2425 at 8, 915 So.2d at 305.
defendant may challenge a juror for cause if "[t]he
juror is not impartial, whatever the cause of his
partiality." La. C.Cr.P. art. 797(2). Additionally, La.
C.Cr.P. art. 797(3) provides a defendant may challenge a
juror for cause on the ground that "[t]he relationship,
whether by blood, marriage, employment, friendship, or enmity
between the juror and the defendant, the person injured by
the offense, the district attorney, or defense counsel, is
such that it is reasonable to conclude that it would
influence the juror in arriving at a verdict." A
"juror [who] will not accept the law as given to him by
the court" may also be challenged for cause by the
defendant. See La. C.Cr.P. art. 797(4).
dire examination of prospective jurors is designed to
discover bases for challenges for cause and to secure
information for an intelligent exercise of peremptory
challenges. State v. Drew, 360 So.2d 500, 513 (La.
1978). The questions propounded are designed to determine any
potential adverse influence on the prospective juror's
ability to render an impartial verdict. See
id. A prospective juror's responses during
voir dire cannot be considered in isolation.
See State v. Frost, 97-1771, p. 8 (La.
12/1/98), 727 So.2d 417, 426.
judge is vested with broad discretion in ruling on challenges
for cause, and such a ruling is subject to reversal only when
a review of the entire voir dire reveals the judge
abused his discretion. Robertson, 630 So.2d at 1281.
The trial judge's refusal to excuse a prospective juror
on the ground he is not impartial is not an abuse of
discretion where, after further inquiry or instruction
(frequently called "rehabilitation"), the
prospective juror has demonstrated a willingness and ability
to decide the case impartially according to the law and the
voir dire, the trial court was questioning
prospective juror number 9 ("K.C."), who indicated
she was an attorney, when the following exchange took place:
[Court:] [K.C.], are you familiar with the people involved in
[K.C.:] No, sir.
[Court:] Anything about the facts of the case?
[K.C.:] It may be a case I've been reading about in the
paper, but I'm not sure.
[Court:] Okay. Hold that thought.
[Court:] Have you served on a jury before?
[K.C.:] Yes, sir.
[Court:] What kind of case?
[K.C.:] A possession of a narcotics case and the defendant
took an acquittal.
[Court:] Was that recently?
[K.C.:] A few years.
[Court:] Have you or close friends or relatives ever worked
in law enforcement?
[K.C.:] No, sir.
[Court:] Have you or a close friend or relative been a crime
[K.C.:] Yes, sir.
[Court:] Could you tell us a little bit about that?
[K.C.:] My mother was raped and murdered.
[Court:] Would that event have any bearing on your ability to
be a fair and impartial juror in today's case?
[K.C.:] Yes, it might.
[Court:] Do you have any questions ...