People v. Miguel Mejias (and People v. Antonio Rodriguez)
AD1 order dated July 7, 2011, affirming judgment of conviction. Decision below: 86 A.D.3d 429, 926 N.Y.S.2d 510. Jones, J., granted leave April 24, 2012.
ISSUE PRESENTED: Whether the trial court erred when, at the close of evidence and prior to summations, it responded to a note from an individual juror requesting information by addressing its inquiry to the jurors as a group, rather than individually. (Leave also granted to co-defendant Antonio Rodriguez.) (Assigned counsel for Mejias: John R. Lewis, 36 Hemlock Drive, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591.)
Issue before the Court: Whether a sworn juror's note seeking additional information before the jury was charged and suggesting the possiblity of premature deliberations by two or more jurors required a Buford inquiry or was the court's decision to address the panel as a whole, issuing admonitions and instruction, sufficient?
Held: The court did not abuse its discretion in addressing the panel as whole rather than conducting a Buford inquiry of the note-writing juror. The majority found that there was "no indication from the note's use of the "we" that the note-writing juror's impartiality was in doubt or that the juror had committed any misconduct. "Premature deliberations, by itself, does not render a juror grossly unqualified." Judges Lippman and Rivera dissented.
CAL Observes: The majority's decision prompts one to wonder what is left of Buford. If the possibilty of premature deliberations does not necessitate an inquiry, then what does. The majority's analysis seems flawed: As the dissent points out, it conflated the disqualification standard with the lower threshold for triggering a Buford inquiry. It remains to be seen whether Mejias is an outlier or foretells the effective evisceration of Buford.