The Third Department determined a new trial was necessary because of the denial of a “for cause” challenge to a juror who socialized with the district attorney (the case was tried by an assistant district attorney). The court explained the concept of “implied bias” which is not easily “cured:”
A statement by a potential juror suggesting a possible bias can be cured, and the juror not excused, if the juror “provide[s] ‘unequivocal assurance that [he or she] can set aside any bias and render an impartial verdict based on the evidence'” … . However, where, as here, the challenge for cause involves a juror’s relationship with a trial participant, a so-called “implied bias” may be implicated which “requires automatic exclusion from jury service regardless of whether the prospective juror declares that the relationship will not affect [his or] her ability to be fair and impartial” … . Of course, “[n]ot all relationships . . . require disqualification . . . [and] [t]he frequency of contact and nature of the parties’ relationship are to be considered in determining whether disqualification is necessary” … . As a practical matter, “the trial court should lean toward disqualifying a prospective juror of dubious impartiality” … .
Here, during voir dire, juror no. 3372 stated that her family was “good friends” with the family of the District Attorney. She added that she socialized with the District Attorney, including having him and his wife as dinner guests at her home, and she and her husband had dined as guests at the District Attorney’s home. County Court nonetheless denied defendant’s challenge for cause as to such juror. People v Bedard, 2015 NY Slip Op 07703, 3rd Dept 10-22-15