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People v. Clark.

2022 COA 33. No. 19CA0340.  Juror Bias—Challenge for Cause—Peremptory Strike—County Court Judge—Jury Deliberations.

March 24, 2022

Defendant, a Black man, was charged with kidnapping and sexual assault against a white woman. During voir dire, defense counsel questioned the jury about the fact that defendant was the only Black person in the room. Prospective Juror K volunteered that he didn’t want diversity, and defense counsel challenged him for cause. Prospective Juror K agreed to perform his duties impartially but clarified that he would not change his views on diversity. The court denied the challenge, and defense counsel used one of his peremptory strikes to remove prospective Juror K. The jury convicted defendant of second degree kidnapping and sexual assault caused by threat of imminent harm.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion by rejecting his challenge to remove prospective Juror K. Here, prospective Juror K expressed a bias and then explicitly rejected the possibility of setting aside that bias. Accordingly, the court abused its discretion in denying the challenge for cause. However, this erroneous ruling alone does not amount to structural error because defendant chose to exercise his statutorily allotted peremptory strikes, and he presented no evidence that another biased juror served on the jury after he removed prospective Juror K. Therefore, the error was harmless.

Defendant also contended that the county court judge who received his jury verdict lacked authority to do so, and thus his conviction must be reversed. A county court judge who is properly qualified and is assigned by the chief justice or a chief judge may perform judicial duties in a district court. Here, defendant was tried before District Court Judge Hall, and County Court Judge Taylor sat in his place after deliberations began to receive the verdict because Judge Hall had a schedule conflict. It is undisputed that County Court Judge Taylor held the proper qualifications, and he presided by assignment from the chief judge of the district, so he possessed authority to sit in lieu of Judge Hall.

Lastly, defendant asserted that a juror’s post-trial affidavit detailing an aspect of jury deliberations constituted “extraneous prejudicial information” under CRE 606(b) entitling him to an evidentiary hearing to determine whether that information posed a reasonable possibility of prejudice. Here, an unnamed juror’s statement that another judge told her that juries must deliberate until they reach a unanimous verdict did not amount to extraneous prejudicial information because the statement did not concern an element of the charged crimes or implicate an issue the jury was tasked with deciding. Accordingly, defendant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing.

The judgment was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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