Trial court’s failure to discharge a juror after she disclosed a past teacher-student relationship with a witness was a structural error that requires automatic reversal. Romero was charged with several sex crimes against two women. During a break that took place after one of the victims started her testimony, a juror disclosed that the victim was a former student. The court asked the juror if she could set aside her experience with the victim and be fair and impartial to both sides. The juror responded that she remembered positive things about the victim, that she was a good, diligent student but still thought she could be fair. Over trial counsel’s objection, the court refused to discharge the juror. The jury convicted Romero of all charges, and he appealed. Held: Reversed. Either party may challenge an individual juror for “an actual bias,” which is defined as “the existence of a state of mind on the part of the juror in reference to the case, or to any of the parties, which will prevent the juror from acting with entire impartiality, and without prejudice to the substantial rights of any party.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 225, subd. (b)(1)(C).) Here, the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to discharge the juror where the juror clearly knew the victim, apparently had frequent personal interaction with the victim in an academic environment, and admitted a favorable impression of the victim. Denial of the right to an unbiased jury is a structural error that is not subject to a harmless error analysis and requires automatic reversal without a demonstration of harm to the defendant. The court reversed the judgment as to all convictions but noted that there is no double jeopardy bar to retrial of the case.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B277631.PDF