Bias factors in Bryant jury questioning
EAGLE – Any potential juror who comes to court thinking Kobe Bryant either walks on water or swims in the sewer should automatically be sent home, attorneys said Tuesday.Deputy District Attorney Ingrid Bakke asked that any prospective juror who says they already think Bryant is definitely or probably not guilty, before hearing the evidence, should be challenged and probably dismissed.Bryant’s defense lawyer Harold Haddon said the opposite must also be applied – that any prospective juror who thinks Bryant is guilty should also be dismissed.The facts are probably somewhere in the middle, presiding District Judge Terry Ruckriegle of Breckenridge said. He said he’d need to know if those jurors could set aside what they’ve seen, read or heard and make an unbiased decision based only on the evidence.He is applying “stringent standards” to jury questioning to uncover biases toward either guilt or innocence, Ruckriegle said.”The judge is saying that this rainbow goes both ways,” said David Lugert, local defense attorney and former state and federal prosecutor.The issue of preconceived notions became more apparent Tuesday morning as jury questioning continued. Opening statements are scheduled to begin Tuesday, Sept. 7. Bakke said prospective jurors who said on their questionnaire that Bryant is not guilty “indicates bias against the state.” Bakke pointed to a state law that says “when a juror expressed bias, prejudice, or enmity toward either party, they may be challenged for cause” – or automatically dismissed.Haddon pointed out Bakke only sought to disqualify those who thought Bryant was not guilty. “The same standard must be applied to the other side,” said Haddon. “The prosecution is trying, and not very subtly, to apply a double standard.”How potential jurors came to any preconceived ideas is the crux of the problem for Ruckriegle. While Bryant is entitled to a presumption of innocence, he is not entitled to a preconceived notion of being guilty or not guilty, Ruckriegle said.Bakke said information leading to preconceived decisions that Bryant is not guilty have been based on anecdotal information that won’t be heard in court, and that the anecdotal information is almost always damaging to the prosecution.Ruckriegle said the question jurors – and the court – must answer is: “Can they set aside this other information and will they make an unbiased decision?”But how they came to see, read or hear that information, and what it might be, has placed Ruckriegle in a dilemma.Normally, he said, he probes for that information in closed-door sessions to keep other jurors from hearing inadmissible anecdotes and tainting the entire jury pool. But media attorneys have argued that jury selection should be held in public. Ruckriegle said that while no one has ever challenged his closed-door juror-questioning sessions, they might no longer be possible.Courthouse chain saw massacreThe Eagle County courthouse lawn looks like a high-tech tent city in squatter town, with the dozen or so television tents. It was all fine and wonderful during the winter when the foliage had fallen. But in the summer, with everything engorged in Rocky Mountain splendor, a few of those pesky leaves were getting in the shot of Channel 9, Denver’s ABC affiliate. Since they asked so nicely, Tom Ehrenberg from Eagle County showed up with his chain saw for a little tree surgery, opening the view corridors and preserving the public’s right to know what the front of the courthouse looks like when it’s broadcast on ABC. But no one told state court officials the tree was slated for a little trim. One court worker went careening the length of the parking lot, ran up to the tree trimmer – who was standing on a step ladder wailing away with his Stihl – and started smacking him on the leg. Tom took a dim view, exclaiming in strong and steady voice that smiting someone standing on a ladder with a running chain saw was a bona fide social faux pas. The court official quickly made amends, and Tom continued sawing.
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