Florida jury’s verdict thrown out because they weren’t tested for homophobia

DCNFAnders Hagstrom, DCNF

A federal court has thrown out a Florida jury’s verdict clearing police of misconduct charges, claiming the jury hadn’t been vetted for homophobia and may have been biased against the gay plaintiff.

Raymond Berthiaume accused Lt. David Smith of the Key West Police Department of framing him for battery by forcing his friend to make false testimony in 2013, the Miami Herald reported. While the jury cleared Smith of wrongdoing, a federal appellate court tossed out the verdict because the district court had “refused” to ask potential jurors questions about potential bias based on sexual orientation. Berthiaume will now receive a second trial.

“The district court here asked the jurors multiple questions about any biases or prejudices they might have against law enforcement,” reads the decision by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. “But the district court refused to ask any questions at all about prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation. Therefore, we have no way to discern whether the jury was biased against the plaintiff for that reason.”

The original incident took place in 2013 when Berthiaume — clad in a loincloth and flip-flops — was leaving “Fantasy Fest 2013” along with several friends. The group got into an argument about whether they should call it a night, and Berthiaume’s then-partner stole the group’s car keys to force them into staying out later. Berthiaume smacked a street sign in frustration and Smith knocked him to the ground and arrested him for domestic battery, but the man was never charged.

Smith retired from the force in 2015 after 25 years with the department. Berthiaume filed a lawsuit against Smith the same year, claiming he had attempted to get one of his friends to lie about the incident. He demanded $15,000 in compensation for surgeries he apparently had to repair injuries suffered by being knocked to the ground.

While the jury ruled against Berthiaume in 2016, its verdict has now been revoked.

“Berthiaume noted that homosexuals had only recently begun to gain acceptance in society, and many people still harbor bias or prejudice against homosexuals,” the ruling reads. “Accordingly, Berthiaume contended that in a case such as his, involving both a gay party and gay witnesses, it is necessary for courts to inquire into prospective jurors’ potential biases against homosexuals to ensure a fair trial.”

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