Aug 5

final-jur-e headline

Washington Untangles “Discombobulated” Standards to Remedy Voir Dire Nondisclosures

That’s the adjective adopted by the Washington State Supreme Court in State v. Lupastean to describe past caselaw regarding a potential juror’s failure to disclose information during voir dire.  In Lupastean the court reconciled case precedent about the role of peremptory challenges in jury trials with precedent setting forth the appropriate remedies for a juror's failure to disclose information during the jury selection process.   The appellant sought a new trial claiming a prospective juror’s nondisclosure of requested information impaired his ability to intelligently exercise peremptory challenges and showed that the juror had actual and implied bias.  To evaluate Mr. Lupastean's claims, the court delved into tensions between older opinions holding that a party's inability to intelligently exercise their peremptory challenges automatically requires a new trial (with no showing of prejudice required) versus recent precedents holding the party seeking a new trial based on juror nondisclosure must show that the undisclosed information “would have provided a valid basis for a challenge for cause.”   The court decided there is no longer any legal basis to treat juror nondisclosure as inherently prejudicial error requiring an automatic new trial.  It stated, “In light of the current, limited role of peremptory challenges in Washington jury trials, we now hold that a motion for a mistrial or new trial may not be granted solely because undisclosed information about a juror might have triggered a peremptory challenge. Instead, juror nondisclosure must be treated similarly to other non-constitutional errors that require a new trial only on an affirmative showing of prejudice. Such a showing may be made if the moving party shows that the undisclosed information would have supported a valid challenge for cause or that the nondisclosure was otherwise prejudicial to the moving party's right to a fair trial.”

District Attorney and Detectives Searching for Scofflaw Juror

Yahoo! News and The Republican and Herald newspaper in Pottsville, Pennsylvania are spreading the news that the Schuylkill County District Attorney and detectives are searching for Land Douglas Hicks, who failed to show up for jury selection in January 2011.  Clearly, it takes quite a while for scofflaws to get off the hook in some places.

Potential Juror’s Repeated Correspondence with Police Officer Witness Three Years Ago Was Insufficient Reason to Strike for Cause

After jury selection but before trial commenced in United States v. Farrington ($), a juror informed the trial judge that, upon reflection, she realized that she recognized the name of a key government witness, Detective Traishondus Bunch. The district court questioned the juror, and she explained that between three and four years ago, she had corresponded with Detective Bunch by email about drug activity occurring in the parking lot outside of her residence. She had emailed Detective Bunch about once or twice a week during a nine-month period, reporting her observations of drug activity. About three years before Farrington's trial, she moved away from the residence and had no further contact with Detective Bunch. The district court asked the juror if there was “anything about those experiences that causes you any concern in your own mind about your ability to be fair to both sides in this case?” The juror responded, “No, sir.” The district court then asked, “Are you willing to wait and listen to Officer Bunch's testimony before deciding whether you believe it?” The juror answered, “Yes.” The defense moved to strike the juror for cause, but the district court denied the motion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit found there was no abuse of discretion by the trial judge.

Public Information Ruling: Judge’s Name – Okay; Jury Selection Records – Not Okay

In Administrative Office of the Courts v. Abell Foundation, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that the Maryland Public Information Act requires disclosure of judge names in connection with tracking bail decisions but does not require disclosure of jury selection records.