New Trial Ordered: Juror Found “Grossly Unqualified” by the Trial Judge Should Have Been Dismissed/One Juror Was Absent from the Deliberations for About An Hour
The Third Department ordered a new trial was because one of the juror’s, juror No. 4 should have been dismissed after the trial court determined that the juror was “grossly unqualified,” and because deliberations continued while juror No. 4 was absent from the jury room for about an hour:
“If at any time after the trial jury has been sworn and before the rendition of its verdict, . . . . the court finds, from facts unknown at the time of the selection of the jury, that a juror is grossly unqualified to serve in the case . . . , the court must discharge such juror” (CPL 270.35 … ). “A juror will be deemed to be grossly unqualified to serve only when, after conduct[ing] a probing, tactful inquiry into the specific circumstances, it becomes obvious that a particular juror possesses a state of mind which would prevent the rendering of an impartial verdict” … . Although the trial court traditionally is accorded “great deference in deciding whether a juror is grossly unqualified” …, inasmuch as juror No. 4 repeatedly expressed her inability to render a decision one way or the other, and County Court expressly found that she was both grossly unqualified to serve and unable to afford either the People or defendant a fair trial, County Court erred in failing to discharge juror No. 4… .
Moreover, even assuming that we discerned no impropriety with respect to juror No. 4’s continued service on the jury, we nonetheless would be compelled to reverse defendant’s conviction and order a new trial, as it is readily apparent from the record that the jury deliberated – on at least one occasion – with fewer than 12 members present. CPL 310.10 (1) provides, in relevant part, that “[f]ollowing the court’s charge, . . . the jury must retire to deliberate upon its verdict in a place outside the courtroom . . . and must, except as otherwise provided in [CPL 310.10 (2)], be continuously kept together under the supervision of a court officer.” Consistent with the provisions of CPL 310.10 (2), “[a]t any time after the jury has been charged or commenced its deliberations, and after notice to the parties and affording such parties an opportunity to be heard on the record outside of the presence of the jury, the court may declare the deliberations to be in recess and may thereupon direct the jury to suspend its deliberations and to separate for a reasonable period of time to be specified by the court.” Additionally, “[b]efore each recess, the court must . . . direct [the jury] not to resume its deliberations until all twelve jurors have reassembled in the designated place at the termination of the declared recess.” * * *
Here … juror No. 4 was absent from the jury room for slightly more than one hour… . People v Cridelle, 104319, 3rd Dept 12-19-13