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Zuluaga v. Bashas’, Inc - 2/3/2017

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds that a trial court’s error in limiting the scope of voir dire may not be reversible error when the challenging party has not shown the error caused prejudice.

In a negligence action involving an accident at a grocery store, the trial court stopped plaintiff’s counsel from asking prospective jurors whether they or their loved ones had ever worked at a grocery store, allowing counsel to ask only whether anyone’s ability to fairly weigh the credibility of witnesses would be compromised by past experiences.  Because voir dire cannot be limited to grounds of challenges for cause, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court had abused its discretion.

Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals held that the error was not prejudicial.  Plaintiff had a burden to show that the jury selected was not impartial.  Although other jurisdictions presume prejudice when the trial judge limits the scope of voir dire such that counsel cannot effectively discover prospective jurors’ biases, Arizona courts do not apply this rule.  Because plaintiff failed to establish that special circumstances raised a specific concern regarding juror bias, the trial court’s error was not grounds for reversal.

The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court did not err in giving a curative instruction after plaintiff’s counsel used a potentially misleading word in its opening statement.

Judge Vásquez authored the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Howard and Judge Staring concurred.

Posted by: Andrea M. Taylor

Posted On: 2/21/2017