Published on:

SJC Affirms Conviction Where Defendant Raised Concerns of Biased Juror

to-the-dump-1-1237954-300x277In Commonwealth v. Lee, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction of first-degree murder, rejecting the defendant’s contention that the judge seated a biased juror, thereby violating the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury.

The background was as follows. The victim was the defendant’s father. A woman for whom the defendant had done housework (Ruth) “saw the defendant walk behind her house carrying white garbage bags. Soon after, the defendant left without any garbage bags.” Ruth and her daughter “checked the backyard for the garbage bags. They found white garbage bags in a compost bin, and inside one of the garbage bags, they found a human head. When police arrived, officers found two arms and two legs in the other garbage bags. Ruth reported that she had seen the defendant carrying white garbage bags behind her house. Police officers learned that the defendant’s father had sought an abuse prevention order against him three days earlier. Officers went to the defendant’s father’s house to check on his safety. In the house, officers found white garbage bags and a human torso in a plastic tub. A fingerprint on the tub was later identified as the defendant’s.” When the police interviewed the defendant, he told them “that he had dismembered his father but not killed him.” “During jury empanelment, the judge informed each juror that participating in the trial would include viewing ‘graphic photos of body parts’ and inquired about the impact of those photographs on each juror’s impartiality. The defendant contends that prospective juror no. 226 ‘expressed doubts about his ability to be fair and impartial’ and was seated on the jury nonetheless. The transcript contains the following exchange between the judge and prospective juror no. 226: ‘The judge: “All right. In this trial you will see some graphic photos of body parts, and the question is whether you think that would affect your ability to be a fair and impartial juror?” The juror: ‘Yes.’ [] (Emphasis supplied.)’” At the time, “neither the defendant nor the Commonwealth opposed the juror’s empanelment. Later, [however,] when discussing another juror, the defendant asked to challenge prospective juror no. 226. The judge declined to allow the defendant [to] do so.” On appeal, “[t]he defendant argue[d] that the seating of prospective juror no. 226 was structural error [requiring] a new trial.”

In its decision, the SJC stated, “The defendant’s argument and the Commonwealth’s response were premised on the trial transcript. After hearing oral argument on this case, we acquired the transcriptionist’s audio recordings and learned that the transcript was inaccurate. The actual exchange between prospective juror no. 226 and the judge [was] as follows: ‘The judge: “You will see in this trial some graphic photos of body parts. The question is whether you think you could see them and remain a fair and impartial juror.” The juror: “Yes.” [] (Emphasis supplied.)’” The Court concluded, on the basis of the more accurate audio recording, that “[t]he judge conducted a sufficient colloquy with juror no. 226 to determine that he would not be a biased juror.”

Entrusting your fate to a group of strangers is an extremely nerve wracking and difficult thing to do.  If you or a loved one is charged with a crime and intend to exercise your right to a jury trial, it is of critical importance that you have a skilled and experienced attorney by your side to flesh out any potential biases jurors might have that would prevent them from fairly and impartially trying your case.  Attorney Daniel Cappetta has successfully taken many cases to trial and is well versed in the jury selection process.  Put his expertise to work for you.