The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholas G. Garaufis, United States District Judge.
Before the court is Defendant Ronell Wilson's motion to strike for cause Juror #473, Juror #544, and Juror #669. Also before the court is the Government's motion to strike for cause Juror #675. For the reasons set forth below, Wilson's motion to strike Juror #473 is GRANTED. His motion to strike Juror #544 and Juror #669 is DENIED. The Government's motion to strike Juror #675 is GRANTED.
The court is currently conducting oral voir dire to select a jury that will decide whether Wilson will be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of release at an upcoming penalty phase re-trial scheduled to begin on June 24, 2013.
Wilson argues that Juror #473 is substantially impaired because he (1) would automatically impose the death penalty in cases of premeditated murder; and (2) cannot meaningfully consider mitigation evidence. The Government opposes, contending that although he might generally support the death penalty, Juror #473 can consider mitigating evidence, including a defendant's childhood experiences, and is able to impose a life sentence.
Wilson moves to strike Juror #544 on the grounds that she is unable to (1) properly consider mitigation evidence; and (2) adhere to her belief as to the appropriate punishment in the face of opposition from other jurors. The Government contends that at voir dire Juror #544 stated that she can consider mitigation evidence, and implied that she was unable to answer the court's question about facing jurors' contrary views only because she was not aware of all the facts of the case.
Wilson challenges Juror #669 because many of her family members are (or were) police officers, and that she would hold defendants who killed those who serve others to a "higher standard." He also contends that the court did not sufficiently ask whether Juror #669 could impartially consider victim impact evidence in light of her familial relations. The Government describes Juror #669 as a thoughtful juror who said that she represents "two ends of the spectrum"-on one end, her affinity for law enforcement; on the other, her experience as a New York City teacher, where she worked with underprivileged students. The Government adds that Juror #669 affirmed that she would be able to impose a life sentence irrespective of any concerns about possible later discussions with her family about having imposed such a sentence, confirming that her ties to law enforcement are not disqualifying.
Finally, Juror #675 is challenged by the Government on the ground that it has "no confidence" that he can actually impose the death penalty, particularly given his questionnaire responses, which contrast those given at oral voir dire. Wilson argues that he is satisfied about Juror #675's ability to contemplate mitigation evidence, and contends that although Juror #675 may be "odd," nothing in his answers given at voir dire were disqualifying.
"[T]he proper standard for determining when a prospective juror may be excused for cause because of his or her views on capital punishment . . . is whether the juror's views would 'prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath.'" Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719, 728 (1992) (quoting Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 424 (1985)).
A defendant may challenge for cause "[a] juror who will automatically vote for the death penalty in every case [because that means he] will fail in good faith to consider the evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances as the instructions require him to do." Id. at 729. This is often referred to as the requirement that a juror be "life-qualified." United States v. Basciano, No. 05-CR-060 (NGG), 2011 WL 4574925, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 11, 2011).
B. Consideration of Mitigation Evidence
To be a qualified juror in a capital case, a person must, among other things, be open to considering relevant mitigation evidence. "[T]he sentencer [may not] refuse to consider, as a matter of law, any relevant mitigating evidence. . . . The sentencer . . . may determine the weight to be given relevant mitigating evidence[, b]ut [it] may not give it no weight by excluding such evidence from [its] consideration." Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 113-14 (1982) (emphasis in original); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3592(a) ("In determining whether a sentence of death is to be imposed on a defendant, the finder of fact shall consider any mitigating factor . . . ." (emphasis added)); cf. Morgan, 504 U.S. at 729 (stating that a defendant may challenge for cause a "juror who will automatically vote for the death penalty in every case [because he] will fail in good faith to consider the evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances as the instructions require him to do"). Similarly, a death-eligible defendant is entitled to have the jury "consider, as a mitigating factor, any aspect of [his] character or record and any circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death." Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 604 (1978) (emphasis removed).
A prospective juror may be excused for cause based on many forms of bias. As the Second Circuit has explained, Juror partiality can . . . take various forms: actual, implied, or inferred. See United States v. Torres, 128 F.3d [38,] 43 [(2d Cir. 1997)]. Actual bias is "bias in fact," id., generally evidenced by "express proof," such as a juror's admission to "a state of mind prejudicial to a party's interest." United States v. Haynes, 398 F.2d [980,] 984 [(2d Cir. 1968)]. Implied bias is "bias conclusively presumed as a matter of law" from circumstances in which an average person in the position of the prospective juror would be prejudiced. United States v. Torres, 128 F.3d at 45. Inferred bias exists "when a juror discloses a fact that bespeaks a risk of partiality sufficiently significant to warrant granting the trial judge discretion to excuse the juror for cause, but not so great as to make mandatory a presumption of bias." Id. at 47.
United States v. Quinones, 511 F.3d 289, 301 (2d Cir. 2007). "While blunt acknowledgment of bias may support removal without further inquiry, the more ambiguous a prospective juror's responses, the more useful demeanor, and thus oral inquiry, become in allowing a trial judge to identify partiality warranting removal for cause." Id. at 301-02.
As to "implied bias," "the issue . . . is whether an average person in the position of the juror in controversy would be prejudiced." Torres, 128 F.3d at 45. If so, bias is presumed, and a prospective juror's "'statements upon voir dire [about his ability to be impartial] are totally irrelevant.'" Id. (alteration in original) (citation omitted). "Such automatically presumed bias deals mainly with jurors who are related to the parties or who were victims of the alleged crime itself." Id. Accordingly, "the doctrine of implied bias ...