The Second Department determined the court’s discharging a sworn juror without allowing counsel to be heard was an abuse of discretion requiring reversal and a new trial. The juror became upset when she learned the defendant was a relative of a person she sees every day. With counsel’s permission, the trial judge interviewed the juror alone. The judge discharged her without conducting a proper inquiry, without first explaining to counsel what was discussed and without hearing from both counsel on what should be done:
As a matter of procedure, the court, at a minimum, should have informed all parties of the substance of the in camera interview and provided each side with an opportunity to be heard before making its determination to discharge the sworn juror (… cf. CPL 270.35[b]). Contrary to the defendant’s contention, however, this procedural error, standing alone, was not inherently prejudicial … . Nevertheless, affording all sides an opportunity to be heard in this case might well have allowed counsel to oppose the court’s proposed disposition before it became a fait accompli. Further questioning of the juror might have revealed the underlying reasons for her uncertainty, thereby assisting the court in making an informed decision as to whether discharge of the juror was warranted.
Based on the Supreme Court’s very limited questioning of the subject juror, we find that the court improvidently exercised its discretion in discharging her. Assuming, as both parties contend, that the court’s authority to discharge the sworn juror must be considered under CPL 270.35 …, the court made little effort to ascertain whether the juror could, in fact, deliberate fairly and render an impartial verdict. In making such an important determination with respect to a sworn juror, “the court may not speculate as to possible partiality of the juror based on her equivocal responses. Instead, it must be convinced that the juror’s knowledge will prevent her from rendering an impartial verdict” … . People v Owens, 2016 NY Slip Op 00993, 2nd Dept 2-10-16
CRIMINAL LAW (DISCHARGE OF SWORN JUROR WITHOUT PROPER INQUIRY AND INPUT FROM COUNSEL WAS AN ABUSE OF DISCRETION, NEW TRIAL ORDERED)/JURORS (CRIMINAL LAW, DISCHARGE OF SWORN JUROR WITHOUT PROPER INQUIRY AND INPUT FROM COUNSEL WAS AN ABUSE OF DISCRETION, NEW TRIAL ORDERED)