Florida - Improper Comments and/or Participation by the Judge (Jury Trials)
Florida – Improper Comments or Participation by the Trial Judge (Jury Trials)
The Evidence Code § 90.106, Fla. Stat., specifically states that
“A judge may not sum up the evidence or comment to the jury upon the weight of the evidence, the credibility of the witnesses, or the guilt of the accused."
Florida case law holds that trial judges may not improperly interject objections in the presence of a jury, without any objections being made by Plaintiff’s counsel. The trial judge may not take on the role of interrogator on substantive questions. In doing so, the trial judge is improperly aligning with a party’s case and diminishing the other party’s case in the presence of the jury thereby sending an inappropriate message to the jury on the trial judge’s opinion. Gonzales v. Mercy Hosp., 738 So.2d 955, 956 (Fla.3d DCA 1999).Moton v. State, 659 So.2d 1269 (Fla.4d DCA 1995);Vaughn v. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., 907 So.2d 1248, 1252-55 (Fla.5d DCA 2005).
Along those same lines, and by extension, a trial judge is not permitted to make comments on the evidence, bolster a party’s position, and do or say anything that denigrates a party and/or places the other party’s theory in their case in a bad light in front of the jury. Vaughn v. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., 907 So.2d 1248, 1252-55 (Fla.5d DCA 2005); Whitenight v. Int. Patr. Det. Agency, 483 So.2d 472, 475 (Fla.3d DCA 1986). Succinctly put, lay people will place more significance on the comments, questions, and participations of trial judges as they are viewed as the most knowledgeable person in the courtroom. As such, juries may be misled or swayed in the case by the judge’s improper participation.
In Florida, if these improprieties are committed by the trial judge and no curative jury instruction could correct the errors, a mistrial at the trial level should be granted; or, if up on appeal, the errors should be reversed if they are considerably prejudicial, harmful, and manifest a substantial injustice in the party’s case as the series of errors goes to the heart of the trial and vitiates any sense of fairness.