Wednesday, January 10, 2007

AD4: error to discharge potential juror without giving defense counsel a chance to voir dire

People v Habte, 2006 NY Slip Op 09790 [available here]

Under questioning by the prosecutor, a potential juror "appeared to indicate that he could not convict upon the testimony of one witness, even if that witness was credible, stating, 'We're supposed to take everything into consideration.'" (Habte, 2006 NY Slip Op 09790.) The trial court immediately discharged the juror for cause, without first giving defense counsel a chance to question the juror. The Fourth Department, while noting that "the trial court has broad discretion to control and restrict the scope of voir dire examination", nevertheless reversed Mr. Habte's conviction based on the trial court's failure to allow defense counsel an opportunity to rehabilitate the potential juror. "[A]ny restrictions imposed on voir dire must afford defense counsel a fair opportunity to question prospective jurors about relevant matters. In our view, the response of the potential juror did not establish that he was incapable of being fair and impartial and defense counsel was thus denied the opportunity to question the potential juror about relevant matters." (Id. [citations omitted].)