The Fourth Department, over a two-justice dissent, determined the trial judge should have inquired further into the allegation of juror bias. One of defendant’s friends told the court two jurors were overheard referring to defendant as a scumbag during a recess:
“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 ). The standard for discharging a sworn juror is satisfied ” when it becomes obvious that a particular juror possesses a state of mind which would prevent the rendering of an impartial verdict’ ” … . There is a well-established framework by which the court must evaluate a sworn juror who, for one reason or another, may possess such a state of mind … .
To make a proper determination, the court “must question each allegedly unqualified juror individually in camera in the presence of the attorneys and defendant” (Buford, 69 NY2d at 299). “In a probing and tactful inquiry, the court should evaluate the nature of what the juror has seen, heard, or has acquired knowledge of, and assess its importance and its bearing on the case” (id.). During the inquiry, “the court should carefully consider the juror’s answers and demeanor to ascertain whether [his or] her state of mind will affect [his or] her deliberations” (id.). That accomplished, the court must place the reasons for its ruling on the record (see id.).
It has been emphasized repeatedly that ” each case must be evaluated on its unique facts’ ” … . To that end, the court must hold a Buford inquiry whenever there are facts indicating the possibility of juror bias, and must not base its ruling on speculation … . Not only does the court’s failure to hold an inquiry under such circumstances constitute reversible error, but its failure to place the reasons for its ruling on the record also constitutes reversible error … . Such errors are not subject to harmless error analysis … . People v Kuzdzal, 2016 NY Slip Op 07768, 4th Dept 11-18-16
CRIMINAL LAW (JUDGE SHOULD HAVE MADE AN INQUIRY INTO ALLEGATIONS OF JUROR BIAS BASED UPON AN OBSERVATION DURING A RECESS, NEW TRIAL ORDERED)/JURORS (CRIMINAL LAW, JUROR BIAS, JUDGE SHOULD HAVE MADE AN INQUIRY INTO ALLEGATIONS OF JUROR BIAS BASED UPON AN OBSERVATION DURING A RECESS, NEW TRIAL ORDERED)