Conviction Reversed Because Trial Court Incorrectly Denied Cause Challenge in Jury Selection (2nd Department)
In People v Harris, 2015 NY Slip Op 00554, the Second Department overturned the conviction of James Harris for Criminal Sale of a Controlled substance because the trial court, incorrectly denied the defendant’s cause challenge of a prospective juror who told the Court during jury selection that she was engaged to be married to a police officer, and she “stated that she could not believe that police officers would get on the witness stand and lie about a person selling drugs.”
As a matter of background, during jury selection for a criminal trial, both the government and the defendant is entitled to make as many cause challenges to perspective jurors as they deem necessary. A cause challenge is a challenge that either party can make where they argue that the perspective juror “has a state of mind that is likely to preclude him from rendering an impartial verdict based upon the evidence adduced at the trial.” Once a party makes a cause challenge, the other side can either agree or can object, and if there is an objection, the Court decides if the juror’s statements call into doubt if that juror can be and impartial. If the Court denies the challenge, the potential juror is not excused. On the other hand, a preemptory challenge is a challenge that either side can make as to any perspective juror without having to tell the court their reason for challenging the perspective juror. As opposed to cause challenges, the number of preemptory challenges each side has is limited. For example, in this case, the parties were limited to 15 preemptory challenges.
As a result of the Court’s ruling, the defendant stuck this perspective juror with a preemptory challenge, and subsequently ran out of preemptory challenges before the concussion of jury selection. As the Court held, this was reversible error because the ruling to deny the cause challenge was wrong without further inquiry of the potential juror to see is she could assure the court and the parities that she could be unequivocally fair and impartial, because the defendant had to uses a preemptory challenge, and subsequently exhausted all of his preemptory challenges before the conclusion of jury selection.