New Trial Granted: Juror could not unequivocally state she could render an impartial verdict
This case comes by way of an appeal. The Defendant was convicted of assault in the third degree and criminal mischief in the fourth degree, upon a jury verdict. A New York Criminal Defendant has the right to be tried by a fair and impartial jury. Prospective jurors must be able to fairly look at the evidence and not incorporate their own personal biases in rendering a verdict. A criminal defendant ought to hire a good criminal defense attorney to flush out such biases which may not be so apparent:
CPL 270.20(1)(b) provides that a prospective juror may be challenged for cause if the juror “has a state of mind that is likely to preclude him [or her] from rendering an impartial verdict based upon the evidence adduced at the trial.” Where an issue is raised concerning the ability of a prospective juror to be fair and impartial, the prospective juror must state unequivocally that his or her prior state of mind will not influence his or her verdict, and that he or she will render an impartial verdict based solely on the evidence (see People v Johnson, 94 NY2d 600, 614; People v Goodwin, 64 AD3d 790, 791). A prospective juror’s responses, construed as a whole, must demonstrate an absolute belief that his or her prior opinion will not influence his or her verdict (see People v Culhane, 33 NY2d 90, 107; People v Goodwin, 64 AD3d at 792).
“Here, during voir dire, one prospective juror indicated that because her aunt had been the victim of a violent sexual assault, it would ‘be a little bit hard’ for her to keep an open mind when listening to the facts of this case.” Wait a second – this is something that needed to be flushed out through questioning and paying careful attention to the juror behavior. The Court when onto describe that “[w]hen [the prospective juror was] asked whether she could ‘give the defendant in this case a fair trial,’ she responded, ‘I can manage. Yes.’ When asked if it was possible that her judgment in this case might be affected by her aunt’s case, she responded, ‘Might.'” You can imagine that if you were the defendant in this case, you “might” not want this juror rendering a decision impacting your future:
The prospective juror confirmed that she would refrain from blaming the defendant for what happened to her aunt or favoring the prosecution for successfully prosecuting her aunt’s assailant, but when asked again by defense counsel whether her aunt’s experience “might affect [her] ability to judge this case,” the juror paused and finally said, “I don’t know.” The court denied the defendant’s challenge for cause to this prospective juror. The defense then exercised a peremptory challenge to remove her and exhausted all of its peremptory challenges prior to the end of jury selection.
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