New trial ordered after judge allegedly threw pocket Constitution during voir dire outburst
The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of multiple sex offenses against children because the judge in the case created an “intimidating atmosphere” during voir dire questioning of potential jurors.
According to the state supreme court, the judge “threw a book against the wall, cursed, and berated, yelled at, and threatened a prospective juror for expressing her belief that she could not be impartial.”
The court ruled in the case of Jose Azucena, who was convicted of 25 felonies and five gross misdemeanors, including sexual assault of a minor younger than age 14 and first-degree kidnapping, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Azucena was accused of luring children to his apartment with candy before molesting them, according to previous coverage by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Scotti berated the potential juror after she stated that she didn’t think she could be unbiased because of her exposure to child abuse in her work as a nurse, according to the state supreme court. This colloquy followed:
“The court: So you didn’t say that yesterday. All right.
Prospective Juror No. 177: Well, I said I had other issues.
The court: No, listen, what—what we’re not going to have in this jury is people coming in overnight and thinking up shit and try to make shit up now so they can get out of the jury. That’s not going to happen. All right. All right. Because if I find that someone said something yesterday under oath and changes it because they’re trying to fabricate something to get out of serving on this jury, there’s going to be repercussions. All right.”
The potential juror continued to tell the judge that she said she had other issues the day before.
“The court: All right. So—so why you got issues? Why can’t you—you’re, you’re saying that you can’t be fair and impartial to both sides. You’re going to completely throw out our entire justice system because you don’t want to be fair and impartial.”
Video shows that the judge threw a book at the wall during the last statement, the court said.
The next juror who was questioned said she was sexually abused as a child, but she could be fair and impartial.
During a break, the defense counsel moved to dismiss the entire jury venire because the judge’s scolding could have a chilling effect on potential jurors who could fear disclosing biases. The judge denied the motion as “ludicrous.”
“We are mindful that district court judges are often faced with a myriad of excuses from prospective jurors who wish to avoid sitting on a jury,” the Nevada Supreme Court said. “It is clear from the judge’s comments and behavior that he was frustrated by the prospective juror’s explanation.”
“While we recognize the frustration that the judge experienced, it was inappropriate to throw a book and curse and yell at the prospective juror,” the court said. “Because the judge created an atmosphere of intimidation and did nothing to alleviate the impact of his behavior, we cannot be confident that an impartial jury was selected.”
Scotti responded to the decision Thursday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
“First and foremost, I regret what happened, obviously,” Judge Scotti said. “Despite that incident, I do have tremendous respect for our jury system and all of our jurors and our potential jurors.”