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COA: Juror with family drunk driving history not biased in OWI case

February 8, 2019

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a woman’s drunken driving conviction after finding that she failed to provide sufficient evidence that one of the jurors hearing her case withheld potentially prejudicial information.

When emergency personnel found Tracie Easler after receiving a report of an unconscious person, she was unresponsive, sitting behind the wheel of her vehicle with her head down and hands in her lap. Her vehicle also was still in gear, sitting in the turn lane. As EMS personnel tried unsuccessfully to get Easler’s attention, the vehicle started to roll into the intersection, forcing firefighters to break the driver’s side window and put the vehicle in park.  

Easler later admitted she was returning from a funeral and had consumed two shots earlier in the day because she was having a rough week. Officers noted she had slurred speech and glassy eyes and thus subjected her to three field sobriety tests, all of which she failed. Forensic testing revealed she had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.256 to 0.283 grams per 100 milliliters of blood.

During a subsequent April 2018 jury trial, Juror 4 informed the court that before she was born a family member had been killed by a drunk driver, which altered her family dynamic. The juror contended she could still be a jury member, but she thought the information was relevant.

Easler’s counsel asked that Juror 4 be removed from the jury, but the motion was denied. Easler was ultimately convicted of Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated endangering a person.

On appeal, Easler argued the Marion Superior Court abused its discretion by denying a request to further question Juror 4 when the juror's note to the trial court revealed a potential bias. Specifically, Easler contended Juror 4 engaged in juror misconduct by failing to provide full and truthful answers on her questionnaire and that Easler was entitled to a hearing to further explore potential bias pursuant to Stevens v. State, 357 N.E.2d 245 (Ind. 1976), and Barnes v. State, 330 N.E.2d 743 (Ind. 1975).

However, the appellate court found Easler’s citations were misplaced in the instant case, Tracie Easler v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-1371, noting she failed to present specific, substantial evidence establishing Juror 4’s bias.

“It was not until she (Juror 4) arrived in the courtroom and was informed by the trial court about the specific charges that she became aware of other relevant information, which she conscientiously divulged to the parties in the only way possible at that time,” Judge Patricia A. Riley wrote. “This disclosure, coupled with the affirmation that she could remain on the jury despite her background, resolved the need for any questioning as the trial court had educated the panel that to be a jury member, the person must be free from ‘bias, [and] prejudice[.]’”

The appellate court additionally found Easler’s jury was fair and impartial.

“Because Juror 4 disclosed the information voluntarily at her earliest opportunity, even after counsel wholly failed to ask any questions pertaining to drunk driving, and then assured the parties that she could still be a juror, Easler has fallen short of establishing bias, misconduct, or partiality by Juror 4,” Riley wrote.

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