Criminal: MORGAN V. COM. (SCOKY; 1/19/2006)

Date: 1/19/2006

In an 80-page behemoth of legal scholarship, the SC affirmed by a 4-3 vote Morgan’s convictions for First-Degree Burglary, Kidnapping and related offenses.  However, it reversed the conviction for Second-Degree Stalking because the prosecution failed to prove the "course of conduct" element necessary for a finding of guilt.  The primary issue on appeal was whether the trial court impermissibly denied the defendant’s motion to strike a potential juror for cause.  During voir dire, a prospective juror admitted that he was good friends with a spouse of one of the victims in the case.  He also explained that he had discussed the case with the spouse who, in turn, had relayed to the juror what the victim had told him.  In a nutshell, the juror made a series of statements to the Court and counsel that reflected a bias in favor of the Commonwealth.  However, when asked whether he could ultimately be fair and impartial, the juror stated that he thought he could.  The trial judge denied Morgan’s motion to strike the juror for cause.  Morgan then used one of his peremptory challenges to eliminate the juror. 

On appeal, Morgan argued that the judge had abused his discretion and that he was entitled to relief under Thomas v. Commonwealth, 864 S.W.2d 252 (Ky. 1993) — a case holding that it is per-se reversible error when a defendant is required to use a peremptory challenge to strike a juror that should have been eliminated for cause.  The majority stated that it was overruling Thomas because that case improperly elevated peremptories to a right of "constitutional dimension."  Graves and Roach each wrote concurring opinions.  Cooper and Johnstone each wrote their own dissents on separate issues.   

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