Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Two interesting cases on juror bias and standard of review on appeal

In Fields v. Saunders, 2012 OK 17, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that new trial is required where juror voluntarily revealed, after verdicts returned, that the juror entertained disqualifying bias against one party’s race and right to recover, and where juror deliberately concealed such bias on voir dire in order to participate in rendering verdicts consistent with such bias.  The Supreme Court also held that the de novo review applies when reviewing trial court’s decision on motion for new trial where the underlying issue is juror bias, which is an issue of constitutional dimension, implicating the right to fair trial.  Finally, the Supreme Court cautioned that the decision is not be to be used to manufacture a ground for new trial.

One day earlier, the Oklahoma Supreme Court announced its decision in James v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 2012 OK 21.  There, the Supreme Court held on somewhat different facts that the de novo standard of review applies where trial judge ruling on motion for new trial did not preside at trial.  The James case also dealt with juror conduct.  There, the Supreme Court held that new trial required where incomplete or misleading answers were provided by prospective jurors on jury questionnaire, and where trial court prohibited trial counsel from asking jurors any questions covered in questionnaire.