Sunday, June 05, 2011

DWI Appeal - When the Juror and Witness Know Each Other

In Morris v. State of Texas, --- S.W.3d ----, 2011 WL 2163719 (Tex.App.-Dallas), the defendant appealed the conviction for DWI on the basis that the trial court should have declared a mistrial when it came out during trial that one of the jurors knew one of the witnesses.

During voir dire, no one was asked whether they knew any of the witnesses. After trial began, a witness to the defendants driving revealed that she knew one of the jurors. The witness was called outside the jury's presence and testified that she and one of the jurors had played soccer together for about two years, but had not been in contact for over a year. Morris moved for a mistrial arguing that the juror would likely find the witness credible because of their prior relationship. The trial judge then questioned the juror, who confirmed she had played soccer with the witness for one season about two years before, but they did not have a relationship outside of soccer and they had not spoken since then. The juror said that her prior relationship with the witness would not affect her in deciding the case. The trial court denied the motion for a mistrial.

The decision not to declare a mistrial was affirmed:

"The “mere fact that a juror knows, or is a neighbor, or an intimate acquaintance of, and on friendly relations with, one of the parties to a suit, is not sufficient basis for disqualification.” Anderson v. State, 633 S.W.2d 851, 854 (Tex.Crim.App. [Panel Op.] 1982) (quoting Allbright v. Smith, 5 S.W.2d 970 (Tex. Comm'n App.1928, judgm't adopted)). Mere acquaintance with the defendant or a State's witness is not a sufficient basis for disqualification of a juror. See Taylor v. State, 671 S.W.2d 679, 681 (Tex.App.—Dallas 1984, pet. ref'd). The juror's statement that the prior relationship would not affect her decision in the case supports the trial court's ruling. We overrule Morris's first point of error.

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