The Second Department determined defense counsel’s absence from an exchange between the judge and a juror, which led to the disqualification of the juror, required reversal:
The juror reported that a third party had told him that the defendant had an “aggressive demeanor,” was a “little wild,” was “somebody you don’t mess around with,” and was someone he “should avoid.” The trial court, in discharging the juror, merely told defense counsel that this juror had lied to the court and, thus, was grossly unqualified to continue serving pursuant to CPL 270.35.
“[A]n inquiry to determine the existence and extent of prejudice affecting the gross disqualification of a sworn juror . . . is inextricably related to defendant’s entitlement to a fair hearing … . Therefore, the unique, indispensable presence of at least the single-minded counsel for the accused’ … is minimally necessary to safeguard that fundamental fairness to defendant” … .
Here, the absence of defense counsel from the in camera interview, coupled with the court’s failure to disclose what the juror said, deprived the defense of the opportunity to inquire as to whether the juror made similar prejudicial statements to any other jurors… . People v Otigho, 2014 NY Slip Op 00128, 2nd Dept 1-8-14