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State v. Holm

Court of Appeals of Utah

August 10, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Carl John Holm, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Katie Bernards-Goodman No. 131905377

          Richard G. Sorenson, Attorney for Appellant.

          Simarjit S. Gill and Peter D. Leavitt, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges J. Frederic Voros Jr. and Kate A. Toomey concurred.[1]

          POHLMAN, Judge.

         ¶1 During his early morning commute Carl John Holm drove through a red traffic light and collided with an oncoming vehicle, fatally injuring the vehicle's passenger (Victim). Following a jury trial Holm was convicted of negligent homicide. On appeal Holm asserts that, during voir dire, the trial court should have permitted follow-up questioning of jurors who indicated they or someone close to them had been involved in a serious car accident. We conclude that the trial court exceeded its discretion by precluding such questioning, and we therefore reverse Holm's conviction and remand for a new trial.

         BACKGROUND

         The Collision

         ¶2 Holm was driving to work early one morning when he approached an intersection connecting Bangerter Highway with State Route 201. Holm failed to stop at a red traffic light, drove into oncoming traffic, and collided with a passing vehicle. Victim, who was a passenger in the vehicle, died at the scene. Holm was charged with negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor. See Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-206 (LexisNexis 2012). He pleaded not guilty and elected to have the charge tried by a jury.

         Voir Dire

         ¶3 During voir dire, the trial judge asked the pool of approximately thirty jurors to indicate if they personally "ha[d] ever been involved in a serious car accident." About one-third responded affirmatively. Holm's counsel then requested that the trial court "ask [the jurors] if anyone close to [them] ha[d] been involved in a serious car accident." The court responded with the concern that "everybody" would answer affirmatively, and the prosecution suggested limiting individual questioning to those prospective jurors who felt the "experience [would] affect [their] ability to be fair and impartial." The court agreed to do so, although Holm's counsel reiterated that he "would like to talk to everybody."

         ¶4 The trial court then asked the jurors whether anyone close to them had been involved in a serious car accident. Again, about one-third responded affirmatively. The court then asked, "Those of you [who] have been or know somebody close to you [who] has been in a car accident, is there anything about that experience that makes you feel like you might be biased for one side or the other?" Four persons indicated they might feel such bias.

         ¶5 The court then began questioning jurors individually, primarily those who had indicated potential bias based on personal experience or the experience of someone close to them. Holm's counsel reiterated that he "would like to talk with every single person . . . [who had been] involved in a serious car accident or [whose] close friend was involved in a serious car accident[, ] just to know the circumstances." The court stated that such questioning would involve "every single person" in the jury pool and noted that those who had indicated potential bias were being pulled in for questioning. Holm's counsel responded, "I would like to talk to them, but I understand the [c]ourt's ruling." The trial court later stated, "[I]f . . . everyone who has ever been in a car accident ends up stricken, we would not have enough people . . . . So those who said that they are not going to be biased about that, we're not going to talk to." Holm's counsel replied, "[F]or the record, the Defense would like to talk to them."

         ¶6 Of the four jurors who indicated potential bias, two were struck for cause, one was excluded via Holm's peremptory challenge, and the last was sufficiently deep in the jury pool that individual questioning was unnecessary. But a majority of the jurors selected for Holm's trial had indicated personal involvement or the involvement of someone close to them in a serious car accident. Because ...


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