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Preventing Racial Bias In Jury Questions In NY Murder Cases

By Spodek Law Group | May 31, 2016
(Last Updated On: July 27, 2023)

Last Updated on: 27th July 2023, 06:35 pm

Capital Cases: Individual Questioning for Racial Bias

In any case where the crime charged is punishable by death, the court will, on motion of either party, allow the parties, starting with the people, to examine the prospective jurors individually and outside the presence of the other prospective jurors in regards to their qualifications to serve as jurors. Each party will be given a fair opportunity to question a prospective juror as to any unexplored matter that affects his or her qualifications, including without limitation the possibility of racial bias on the part of the prospective juror, but the court will not allow questioning that’s repetitive or irrelevant, or questions as to a prospective juror’s knowledge of rules of law. If necessary to prevent improper questioning, the court will personally examine the prospective jurors. The scope of this examination will be in the discretion of the court. After the parties conclude their examinations of a prospective juror, the court might ask further questions as it deems proper regarding the qualifications of the prospective juror.
The proceedings provided will be conducted on the record; provided, however, that on motion of either party, and for good cause shown, the court can direct that all or a portion of the record of the proceedings be sealed.

Trial Jury: Challenge for Cause of an Individual Juror

A challenge for cause is an objection to a prospective juror and can be made only on the grounds that he or she doesn’t have the qualifications required by the judiciary law, or he or she has a state of mind that’s likely to preclude him or her from rendering an impartial verdict based on the evidence adduced at the trial, or he or she’s related in the sixth degree by consanguinity or affinity to the defendant, or to the person who was allegedly injured by the crime charged, or to a witness at the trial, or to counsel for the people or the defendant, or that he or she is or was a party adverse to any of these people in a civil action, or that he or she has complained against or been accused by any of these people in a criminal action, or that he or she bears some other relationship to any of the people of this nature that it’s likely to preclude him or her from rendering an impartial verdict, or he or she was a witness at the preliminary examination or before the grand jury or is going to be a witness at the trial, or he or she served on the grand jury that found the indictment in issue or served on a trial jury in an earlier civil or criminal action involving the same incident charged in the indictment, or the crime charged can be punishable by death and the prospective juror entertains conscientious opinions either against or in favor of this punishment as to preclude the juror from rendering an impartial verdict or properly exercising the discretion conferred on the juror by law in the determination of a sentence.
All issues of fact or law that arise on the challenge need to be tried and determined by the court. If the challenge is allowed, the court must exclude the person challenged from service. An erroneous ruling by the court allowing a challenge for cause by the people does not constitute reversible error unless the people have exhausted their peremptory challenges at the time or exhaust them before the selection of the jury is complete. An erroneous ruling by the court that denies a challenge for cause by the defendant doesn’t constitute reversible error unless the defendant’s exhausted his or her peremptory challenges at the time or, if he or she hasn’t, he or she peremptorily challenges the prospective juror and his or her peremptory challenges are exhausted before the selection of the jury’s complete.

How Can A Juror Be Discharged In New York

Once a person has been selected as juror in a  New York Criminal case and has been sworn in, it is very difficult to be discharged from the jury. However, there is such a possibility, and it is controlled by New York Criminal Procedure Law, which is explained here.
Trial Jury: Discharge of Juror, Replacement by Alternate Juror
If at any time after the trial jury’s been sworn and before the rendition of its verdict, a juror’s unable to continue serving because of illness or other incapacity, or for any other reason is unavailable for service, or the court finds from facts unknown at the time of the selection of the jury that a juror’s grossly unqualified to serve in the case or has engaged in misconduct of a substantial nature, but not warranting the declaration of a mistrial, the court has to discharge this juror. If an alternate juror or jurors are available for service, the court needs to order that the discharged juror be replaced by the alternate juror whose name was first drawn and called, provided of course, however, that if the trial jury began its deliberations, the defendant has to consent to this replacement. This consent has to be in writing and must be signed by the defendant in person, in open court, in the presence of the court. If the discharged juror was the foreperson, the court will designate as the new foreperson the juror whose name was second drawn and called. If no alternate juror’s available, the court must declare a mistrial.
In determining whether a juror’s unable to continue serving because of illness or other incapacity, or is for any other reason unavailable for service, the court will make a reasonably thorough inquiry about the illness, incapacity or unavailability, and will attempt to ascertain when the juror will be appearing in court. If the juror fails to appear, or if the court determines there’s no reasonable likelihood the juror will be appearing in court within two hours of the time set by the court for the trial to resume, the court can presume the juror’s unavailable for service and can discharge the juror. Nothing contained in this paragraph will affect the court’s discretion, under this or any other provision, to discharge a juror who repeatedly fails to appear in court in a timely manner.
The court will afford the parties an opportunity to be heard before discharging a juror. If the court discharges a juror, it will place on the record the facts and reasons for its determination that said juror is ill, incapacitated, or unavailable for service.
Nothing contained in this subdivision will affect the requirements of subdivision one of this section in regards to the discharge of a juror when the trial jury began its deliberations.
Trial Jury: Preliminary Instructions by Court
After the jury’s been sworn and before the people’s opening address, the court needs to instruct the jury generally concerning its basic functions, duties, as well as conduct. These instructions must include, among other things, admonitions that the jurors can not converse among themselves or with anyone else on any subject connected with the trial, that they can not read or listen to any accounts or discussions of the case that are reported by newspapers or other news media, that they can not visit or view the premises, or the place where the crime(s) charged were allegedly committed or any other premises or place involved in the case, that prior to discharge, they can not request, accept, agree to accept, or discuss with anyone receiving or accepting, any payment or benefit in consideration for supplying any information that concerns the trial, and lastly that they must promptly report to the court any incident in their knowledge that involves an attempt by anyone to improperly influence any member of the jury.
While the letter of the law can at times seem complicated or confusing, it doesn’t always have to be.

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