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
Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges J.
Frederic Voros Jr. and Kate A. Toomey
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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 ...