Friday, August 5, 2022
Eighth Circuit Finds No Error With Judge Preventing For Cause Challenge to Juror Who E-Mailed Detective One or Twice a Week
A party can move to strike a prospective juror for cause based upon implied bias by the juror. One ground for such implied bias is a connection with one of the witnesses in the case. Even if the prospective juror claims that they can be impartial, the judge should grant a motion to strike if that connection is of a type that should cause the judge to disregard the prospective juror's claim of impartiality. Given this, I'm not quite sure how the Eighth Circuit found the judge in United States v. Farrington, 2022 WL 3024690 (8th Cir. 2022), properly denied a for cause challenge.
In Farrington, "[a] jury convicted Shaun Michael Farrington of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine."
After jury selection but before trial commenced, a juror informed the district court that, upon reflection, she realized that she recognized the name of a Government witness, Detective Traishondus Bunch. Detective Bunch served as a Rule 404(b) witness at Farrington's trial, testifying that Farrington had engaged in drug-related activity in the past. 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.
In ruling against Farrington on appeal, the Eighth Circuit concluded that
there was no abuse of discretion because the juror stated that she could remain fair and would listen to Detective Bunch's testimony before deciding if she believed it....Moreover, this case does not an involve an “extreme situation[ ]” where juror partiality might be implied, such as when a “juror is a close relative of one of the participants in the trial or the criminal transaction.”
Judges do generally takes jurors at their word, but this case seems to be stretching things. It's very hard for me to see this juror questioning anything the detective testified to based upon e-mailing him about drug activity once or twice a week for nine months.