Bias becomes an issue in jury questioning
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 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 became more apparent Tuesday morning as jury questioning continued for the Bryant case. Opening statements are scheduled for 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 that 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 their preconceived ideas is the crux of the problem for Ruckriegle. He explained that while Bryant is entitled to a presumption of innocence, he is not entitled to a preconceived notion of being guilty or not guilty.
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 goes to the heart of the matter. “Can they set aside this other information and will they make an unbiased decision,” said Ruckriegle.
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.
Bryant, 26, faces one count of felony sexual assault for allegedly raping an Eagle woman June 30, 2003, at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, where he was a guest and she was a front desk worker. He has said the sex was consensual. If convicted, he faces 20 years to life on probation, or prison time of four years to life.
Randy Wyrick is covering the Kobe Bryant rape case for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.