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Name: United States v. Kechedzian
Case #: 16-50326
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 09/04/2018
Summary

Trial court committed reversible error when it failed to excuse a challenged juror who demonstrated an actual bias. During voir dire at appellant’s trial in federal court for charges of aggravated identity theft and related offenses, the district court refused to dismiss a prospective juror for bias even though the juror never affirmatively stated she could be impartial. Juror #3 disclosed that she was a victim of identity theft and was asked three times if she could be impartial, and each time she replied equivocally: “I might be able to put that aside”; “I would want to put my personal stuff aside, but I honestly don’t know if I could”; and “I would try to be fair.” Appellant sought to have Juror #3 excused for cause, but the district court denied the request and Juror #3 remained on the jury. Appellant was found guilty and he appealed. Held: Reversed. The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants a verdict by an impartial jury, and “the bias or prejudice of even a single juror is enough to violate that guarantee.” (United States v. Gonzalez (2000) 214 F.3d 1109, 1111.) When a juror is unable to state that she will serve fairly and impartially despite being asked repeatedly for such assurances, the court can “have no confidence that the juror will ‘lay aside’ her biases or her prejudicial personal experiences and render a fair and impartial verdict.” (Id. at 1114.) Here, the mere fact that Juror #3 was previously an identity theft victim, without more, does not create a presumption of implied bias. Turning to the analysis of actual bias, which is the existence of a state of mind that leads to an inference that the person will not act with entire impartiality, the court “reject[ed] any argument that Juror #3’s final response—’I would try to be fair’—is an unequivocal statement of impartiality.” The district court was obligated to excuse Juror #3 for cause under an actual bias theory.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2018/09/04/16-50326.pdf