State v. Guevara Diaz No. 77811-1 (January 27, 2020), WA Court of Appeals, Division One.
Brief: Before voir dire, juror 23 stated, in a juror questionnaire, that she could not be fair to both sides in a trial for sexual assault or abuse. The trial court refused defense counsel’s request to question her outside the presence of other jurors to avoid tainting the other jurors. During voir dire, no one asked juror 23 about her answer. She served on the jury that convicted the defendant of second-degree rape. The Court of Appeals reverses the conviction and remands the case for a new trial. Juror 23’s answer shows actual bias. Because the trial court did not sufficiently oversee the juror selection process or conduct a sufficiently independent inquiry before allowing this apparently biased juror to serve, it did not adequately protect the defendant’s right to a fair and impartial jury. The presence of a biased juror can never be harmless and requires a new trial without a showing of prejudice.
Translation: Actual juror bias is NEVER harmless error (it’s prejudicial), meaning it requires a reversal of a conviction and a new trial (reverse and remand). When a juror says that s/he cannot be fair, that juror has actual bias. Without further questioning about why the juror cannot be fair and whether that reason(s) truly affects the juror’s impartiality, the defendant cannot have a fair trial with that juror.