New York Appellate Court Reverses Murder Conviction Based on Lower Court’s Refusal to Allow Questioning of Prospective Jurors

As experienced New York criminal defense lawyers, we often receive questions about the jury selection process and the rules that apply to ensure that a fair and unbiased jury is selected.  Jury selection, the process of choosing fair and impartial jurors can be one of the most critical stages of a jury trial.  During the selection process, lawyers are permitted to ask the jurors questions and can select certain jurors to be removed, either based on their answers or based on a certain number of challenges they can use without having to explain their reasoning. A recent appellate opinion discusses the rules that apply to questioning jurors.

The defendant in the action was charged with murder. The defendant provided a written and verbal statement to law enforcement officials regarding the shooting and the events that led up to it. He said that the victim approached him to discuss a missing cell phone and that the victim later approached the defendant again and threatened him with an ice pick. The defendant said he then shot at the defendant as the defendant fled. The prosecution identified two witnesses to these events.

Before the jury selection phase of the trial, the defendant’s lawyer asked if the court could instruct the prospective jurors about the rules that apply to the use of the defendant’s statement. The lawyer wanted to make sure that he could weed out any jurors who would be unable to accept the rules that apply to involuntary statements and who would automatically assign weight to any statement regardless of how it was procured. The prosecution indicated that it had not decided whether it intended to admit the defendant’s statement into evidence. The court ultimately declined the defense lawyer’s request, finding that the jury selection phase was not the appropriate time to address this issue.

The trial progressed, and the prosecution offered the defendant’s statement as evidence. The jury convicted the defendant of second-degree murder, in addition to other gun-related offenses. The defendant appealed, concluding that the lower court committed a reversible error when it denied the defendant’s request to discuss rules regarding statements from defendants.

On review, the appellate court concluded that the lower court should have permitted the defendant’s lawyer to question prospective jurors about their ability to follow and apply laws regarding statements. This line of questioning was appropriate because it went to the heart of whether these jurors could be impartial and provide the defendant with a fair trial, instead of assigning whichever weight they deemed appropriate to the statement. One of the defendant’s defenses to his murder charge was based on the involuntariness of the statement that he provided and the inculpatory statements therein. Accordingly, the appellate court remanded the matter for a new trial.

If you are involved in a criminal investigation or prosecution related to murder or another homicide, it is imperative that you speak to a seasoned New York homicide defense lawyer as soon as possible. There are countless rules that are designed to ensure that you are treated fairly, but the authorities do not always have your best interests in mind. They may be tempted to bend the rules or to encourage you to speak to them without legal counsel present. We have assisted many individuals throughout New York in a wide variety of matters. To set up your free consultation, call us now at 877-377-8666 or contact us online to get started.

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