Picking a jury in a controversial criminal case in Arkansas or elsewhere can be a frustrating exercise. It is also a critical stage where the verdict may be cast in cement before the actual trial even begins. Arkansas and other states try to assure the elimination of biased jurors, but the great danger of the system is that sometimes the wrong person fools both sides and gets a seat in order to follow a personal agenda. Clearly, the drama and the importance of jury selection increases when the charges involve an alleged homicide, such as involuntary manslaughter.
In an Arkansas case, the stakes are even higher because the defendant is a judge of the Garland County Circuit Court. Authorities accuse him of negligent homicide, basically the equivalent of involuntary manslaughter, in the death of his 18-month-old son who suffocated in a hot car in Hot Springs on a day that saw temperatures in the high 90s. It appears that the case is definitely going forward in the Judge’s own county, indicating that any change of venue motion was denied or that the defendant chose not to file such a request.
In the jury selection, about 15 persons were excused due to bias or otherwise having formed an opinion about the case. However, that is not a disqualifying factor where the person agrees that he or she can put personal feelings aside and make a decision only on the evidence. With 12 people now selected, the case will go forward and move into opening statements.
The factual details supporting the judge’s arrest are unclear, but it is apparent that the defendant is accused of having controlling possession of the baby at the time of the event. If that is not true, the lack of being in immediate control or authority could be a defense to the manslaughter charge under Arkansas law. Whether others had the immediate responsibility to care for the child at the time of the incident could be critical to the man’s defense.
Source: arkansasonline.com, “Jury selected in trial of Arkansas judge whose son died in hot car“, Brandon Riddle, Aug. 15, 2016