State v. Hammonds, 218 N.C. App. 158 (Jan. 17, 2012)

The trial court committed reversible error by refusing to allow the defendant, after the jury was impanelled, to exercise a remaining peremptory challenge to excuse a juror who had lunch with a friend who was a lawyer in the district attorney's office. Citing State v. Holden, 346 N.C. 404 (1997), and State v. Thomas, 195 N.C. App. 593 (2009), the court held that because the trial court reopened voir dire and because the defendant had not exhausted all of his peremptory challenges, the trial court was required to allow the defendant to exercise a peremptory challenge to excuse the juror. After a lunch break at trial, defense counsel reported that he had seen juror number 8 having lunch with a lawyer from the district attorney's office. Counsel said that if he had known of the juror’s connection with that office, he "probably would have used one of [his] strikes against them." The jurors were returned to the courtroom and asked whether any of them had lunch with a member of the district attorney's office. Juror number 8 indicated that he had done so, but that they had not discussed the case. After removing the other jurors, the trial judge allowed both sides to question juror number 8. Thereafter defense counsel asked that the juror be removed, noting that he had two strikes left. The trial court denied the motion. The court noted that after a jury has been impaneled, further challenge of a juror is a matter within the trial court's discretion. However, when the trial court reopens voir dire, each party has the absolute right to exercise any remaining peremptory challenges. In this case, because the trial court reopened voir dire, the defendant had an absolute right to exercise his remaining challenges.

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