State v. Lupastean

Decision Date28 July 2022
Docket Number99850-7
Citation513 P.3d 781
Parties STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Cristian LUPASTEAN, Petitioner.
CourtWashington Supreme Court

YU, J.

¶ 1 This case provides us with the opportunity to reconcile our precedent regarding the role of peremptory challenges in jury trials with our precedent setting forth the appropriate remedies that follow from a juror's failure to disclose information during the jury selection process. Petitioner Cristian Lupastean was convicted by a jury of driving while license suspended (DWLS), driving a commercial vehicle without a valid commercial driver's license (CDL), and reckless driving. He seeks a new trial because one of the seated jurors failed to disclose information that was requested in voir dire. Lupastean contends the nondisclosure impaired his ability to intelligently exercise peremptory challenges and showed that the juror had actual and implied bias.

¶ 2 To evaluate Lupastean's claims, we must address a point of tension in our precedent. Some of our older opinions hold that a party's inability to intelligently exercise their peremptory challenges automatically requires a new trial, and no showing of prejudice is required to obtain relief on appeal. State v. Simmons , 59 Wash.2d 381, 390-92, 368 P.2d 378 (1962) ; see also Robinson v. Safeway Stores, Inc. , 113 Wash.2d 154, 160, 776 P.2d 676 (1989). However, our more recent precedent states that the party seeking a new trial based on juror nondisclosure must show that the undisclosed information "would have provided a valid basis for a challenge for cause." In re Pers. Restraint of Elmore , 162 Wash.2d 236, 267, 172 P.3d 335 (2007) ; see also In re Pers. Restraint of Lord , 123 Wash.2d 296, 313, 868 P.2d 835, clarified by 123 Wash.2d 737, 870 P.2d 964 (1994). We have never reconciled this tension. We do so now.

¶ 3 The law regarding peremptory challenges has changed substantially since our 1962 decision in Simmons . At that time, courts believed that peremptory challenges were so important that they took precedence over even the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. Since then, we have come to recognize that the nonconstitutional right to exercise peremptory challenges can and must be limited by courts, in a manner that would have been unthinkable when Simmons was decided. Moreover, at the time of Simmons , precedent held that a party's inability to exercise one of their peremptory challenges was structural error automatically requiring a new trial. Both this court and the United States Supreme Court have since disavowed such precedent. Thus, over the past 60 years, "the legal underpinnings of our precedent have changed or disappeared altogether." W.G. Clark Constr. Co. v. Pac. Nw. Reg'l Council of Carpenters , 180 Wash.2d 54, 66, 322 P.3d 1207 (2014).

¶ 4 There is no longer any legal basis to treat juror nondisclosure as inherently prejudicial error that automatically requires a new trial, and we disavow the portions of Simmons and Robinson indicating otherwise. In light of the current, limited role of peremptory challenges in Washington jury trials, we now hold that a motion for a mistrial or new trial may not be granted solely because undisclosed information about a juror might have triggered a peremptory challenge. Instead, juror nondisclosure must be treated similarly to other nonconstitutional errors that require a new trial only on an affirmative showing of prejudice. Such a showing may be made if the moving party shows that the undisclosed information would have supported a valid challenge for cause or that the nondisclosure was otherwise prejudicial to the moving party's right to a fair trial. Lupastean has not made the necessary showing here. We therefore affirm his convictions.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 5 On January 27, 2018, a state trooper on I-90 in Adams County saw a commercial truck drive past and decided to pull it over for an inspection. The main issue to be resolved at trial was who was driving the truck—Lupastean, who did not have a valid CDL, or Erika Harvey, who did.

¶ 6 The trooper testified that he saw Lupastean driving the truck on the highway. However, while the trooper was signaling the truck to stop, he looked into the truck's mirror to see into the passenger area and saw Lupastean move out of the driver's seat. Then, "a blonde female jump[ed] into the driver's seat. And then shortly after that, the vehicle came to a stop." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 108. The "blonde female" was Harvey, who testified that Lupastean was not driving at any time that day. Harvey testified that she had been hired specifically because Lupastean could not drive without a CDL, and January 27, 2018 was her "first trip out." Id. at 154. Lupastean was with her to help maintain the truck and ensure that "nothing needs repair." Id. at 170.

¶ 7 On November 9, 2018, Lupastean was charged in Adams County District Court by third amended complaint with first degree DWLS, driving a commercial vehicle without a CDL, and reckless driving. His first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury could not unanimously agree on a verdict.

¶ 8 At voir dire for Lupastean's retrial, the court listed the charges and asked all the prospective jurors several questions. The jurors were asked to raise their hands if they would "answer yes or probably" to any question. Id. at 47. One of the questions was "Do any of you have a close friend or relative who has had experience with a similar or related type of case or incident? And that would be as a victim, witness, or accused." Id. at 49.

¶ 9 Three prospective jurors disclosed that people close to them had been involved in driving-related incidents. The court followed up with each one to determine whether their experiences would affect their ability to be fair in Lupastean's case. The court then asked if anyone else had "raised their hand in response to that question." Id. at 51. No one spoke, and the court recorded a "negative response from the other jurors." Id. The court moved on to its next general question, and voir dire continued. The parties exercised their for-cause and peremptory challenges, and a six-person jury was sworn with no alternates. The court gave the jury its initial instructions, then took a brief recess.

¶ 10 After the recess and outside the presence of the jury, Lupastean's counsel raised a concern about the person who was seated as juror 6. Counsel reported that during the recess, juror 6's husband had "approached" counsel, "asked if [counsel] was an attorney, and then proceeded to ask about an incident that he had been involved in with regards to getting hit by an unlicensed driver in an accident." Id. at 84. Juror 6 had not responded to the court's general voir dire question about having "a close friend or relative who has had experience with a similar or related type of case or incident." Id. at 49. The court brought juror 6 back in for individual questioning. She stated that her husband's accident "was about a month ago, but it didn't go to court." Id. at 85-86. When asked by the court, juror 6 stated that her husband's accident "wouldn't affect [her]," and that she "would be fair." Id. at 86.

¶ 11 Defense counsel asked follow-up questions about the accident. Juror 6 stated that her husband "was making a left turn and there was an oncoming car and it hit him," and "[t]he other driver didn't have his driver's license." Id. at 86-87. When asked why she had not responded to the court's general voir dire question, juror 6 stated that "since they didn't go to court and he just got a ticket, I don't know, I assumed it would be okay." Id. at 87. However, when directly asked by defense counsel, "Do you think that those are two similar incidences?" Juror 6 agreed, "Yeah, they're the same." Id. at 87-88. She also volunteered, "[W]hen he was asking that question I was thinking behind my head. I go, well, it didn't go to court, my husband didn't get a ticket. I assumed it would be okay, but I thought in my mind." Id. at 88.

¶ 12 The State then asked juror 6, "[I]t didn't seem similar to you, is that why you didn't raise it with us?" Id. at 89. Juror 6 agreed and confirmed that her husband's accident "didn't involve a truck, or reckless driving, or anything like that." Id.

¶ 13 After juror 6 left the room, Lupastean immediately moved to disqualify her and requested a mistrial. The State opposed Lupastean's motion. The court made oral findings that juror 6 "was not deliberately untruthful to try and get herself seated on this jury" and that "it doesn't sound like that's affecting her ability to be fair and impartial." Id. at 95. On the basis of those findings, the court denied Lupastean's motion in an oral ruling:

"Information known during voir dire but not revealed upon request will be prejudicial if it is material and would have provided the objective basis needed to challenge for cause. It will not be prejudicial if no more is shown than that it might have affected how a party subjectively decided to exercise peremptory challenges."
... So, based on the case law and those findings, I'm going to deny the motion for new trial.

Id. at 95-96 (quoting State v. Tigano , 63 Wash. App. 336, 342, 818 P.2d 1369 (1991) ).

¶ 14 Lupastean was convicted, and the Adams County Superior Court affirmed on appeal because juror 6's failure to disclose "was not dishonest." Id. at 229 (citing McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood , 464 U.S. 548, 104 S. Ct. 845, 78 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1984) (plurality opinion)). The Court of Appeals granted discretionary review and affirmed in an unpublished opinion. State...

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