As the Honorable Mark A. Davis recently reminded us in his CLE program entitled Do’s and Don’ts at the Court of Appeals: A View from the Bench: “Appellate judges are always focused on the standard of review that governs their analysis of the particular case before them.”  Appellate practitioners likewise should share this focus, especially when appealing discretionary decisions involving a for-cause challenge to a rehabilitated juror.

This morning, in State v. Sherman, the North Carolina Court of Appeals added to the growing list of appellate decisions upholding denials of challenges for cause.  After first confirming the appellant’s compliance with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1214(h), which sets forth the procedural requirements for appealing a denial of a challenge for cause, the Court of Appeals turned its attention to the standard of review for such challenges: abuse of discretion.

The Court of Appeals found no abuse in the trial judge’s decision, explaining that “[t]he trial judge was in the best position to observe [the juror] and to weigh and decide the credibility of his responses.”  The Court of Appeals relied on the juror’s trial court-elicited response about his willingness to follow the judge’s instructions to overcome his pre- and post-rehabilitation responses indicating that he “probably” and “most likely” would form an opinion about the outcome of the case as it progressed.

This decision highlights the great deference afforded to trial courts when it comes to discretionary questions such as whether a prospective juror could impartially and fairly follow the law.  Tough odds for the appellant.

— Corinne Berry Jones