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Denial of a request for an in camera inspection to unlock a juror's state of mind & prove juror bias was reversible error - People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016)

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Nilgün Aykent Zahour and SM JUROR analyze the case of People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016) where the defendant appealed the court's denial of an in camera inspection to ascertain a juror's state of mind when a spectator overheard two jurors refer to the defendant as a "scumbag." #JurorMisconduct

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Denial of a request for an in camera inspection to unlock a juror's state of mind & prove juror bias was reversible error - People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016)

  1. 1. SM JUROR presents our analysis of: The trial court’s denial of a request for an in camera inspection, to unlock a juror’s state of mind to prove juror bias, was reversible error. People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016).
  2. 2. People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016).
  3. 3. Copyright 2017 – SM JUROR. All rights reserved. www.smjuror.com
  4. 4. This presentation is brought to you by Nilgün Aykent Zahour, Esq. Nilgün Aykent Zahour is the President and Founding Attorney of SM JUROR. With over twenty-eight years of litigation experience, her passion is to help attorneys identify, preserve and advance juror misconduct issues at trial and on appeal in this constantly evolving area of the law. Don’t let juror misconduct taint your verdict, especially when a juror uses social media or the internet. You can view Nilgün’s education and background on the SM JUROR website by clicking here and also click/view her LinkedIn profile. Click on her latest article “The Verdict is In: Juries, Misconduct and Social Media”. Because the only evidence you want the jury to consider … is in the courtroom. Use SM JUROR. LINKS ARE CLICKABLE ON PC DESKTOPS AND SOME MOBILE PHONES
  5. 5. Facts: Copyright 2017 - SM JUROR Defendant was charged with second degree murder for depraved indifference killing of a child less than 11 years old and predatory sexual assault against the child. A trial spectator, who was one of the defendant’s friends, reported that she overheard two jurors call the defendant a “scumbag.” When called to the witness stand, she identified the two jurors. Defense counsel asked the court to perform an inquiry of the two jurors while the prosecutor asked the court to determine whether the spectator’s description was credible. Without any explanation on the record, the court denied defendant’s request, as it did not believe an inquiry of the juror was necessary based on what it heard. The jury convicted the defendant. “SCUMBAG!”
  6. 6. A juror’s state of mind can prevent the rendering of an impartial verdict: Copyright 2017 - SM JUROR “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’” People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 1620, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507, 510 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016). “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.” Id.
  7. 7. Making a proper determination of a juror’s state of mind: Copyright 2017 - SM JUROR “To make a proper determination, the court ‘must question each allegedly unqualified juror individually in camera in the presence of the attorneys and defendant.’” People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 1620, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507, 510 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016). “In a probing and tactful inquiry, the court should evaluate the nature of what the juror has seen, heard, or has acquired “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’. That accomplished, the court must place the reasons for its ruling on the record.” Id. knowledge of, and assess its importance and its bearing on the case.” Id.
  8. 8. The trial court must hold an inquiry when there is a possibility of juror bias and place the reasons for its ruling on the record: Copyright 2017 - SM JUROR “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.” Id., at 1620, 511. It has been emphasized repeatedly that “ ‘each case must be evaluated on its unique facts’” (quoting People v. Buford, 69 N.Y.2d at 299, 514 N.Y.S.2d 191, 506 N.E.2d 901). 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.” People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 1620, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507, 510 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016).
  9. 9. The court’s ruling that an inquiry was not necessary was conclusory: Copyright 2017 - SM JUROR “We respectfully disagree with our dissenting colleagues that the court lacked sufficient credible information indicating the possibility of juror bias. The court's ruling that an inquiry was not ‘necessary or appropriate’ was conclusory and, contrary to the People's contention, did not constitute an implied determination that the observer's testimony was incredible.” People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 1621, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507, 511 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016).
  10. 10. Holding: Copyright 2017 - SM JUROR The dissent noted that the spectator’s testimony was not credible, so there was “no credible evidence indicating that any juror engaged in misconduct, [therefore,] there was no need for a further inquiry of the individual jurors.” People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 1624, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507, 514 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016 [Smith, J. & Peradotto, J., dissenting]). The trial “court did not explain on the record its reasons for denying defendant's request. Based on the record before us, we are compelled to conclude that the jurors' alleged reference to defendant as a ‘scumbag’ indicated the possibility of juror bias, and thus that the court should have granted defendant's request to make an inquiry of the jurors.” People v. Kuzdzal, 144 A.D.3d 1618, 1621, 42 N.Y.S.3d 507, 511 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016). A new trial was granted.
  11. 11. Like what you see? Want more? to sign up for our free SM JUROR newsletter, filled with information about new juror misconduct cases, short webinars, or other helpful resources to help you identify, preserve and advance juror misconduct cases at trial and on appeal. Click here This is a clickable link Links are clickable on PC desktops and some mobile phones
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