State v. Mucha
The mere existence of a prejudicial newspaper article about the case in a locally available newspaper did not require the court to canvass the jury. The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. An automobile driven by Julie Moore rear-ended an automobile just parked by Gerald Mucha. A state trooper ticketed Moore and arrested Mucha after, among other things, he failed two field sobriety tests. Unsuccessful in attempts to contact attorneys, Mucha refused a Breathalyzer test. Following a jury trial, Mucha was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor in violation of C.G.S. §14-227(a)(1). Mucha appealed contending, inter alia, that the court erred in denying his motion to voir dire the jury concerning a newspaper article published during trial. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. From precedent, the Court discerned that the question of whether a court has abused its discretion by not canvassing jurors about prejudicial publicity exposure depends, first, upon whether it is likely that a juror or jurors have been exposed to such publicity and whether the ability of a juror, so exposed, to render a fair and impartial verdict likely would be undermined. The article, in the last paragraphs, discussed rejected plea agreements and Muchas criminal history, including prior arrests for operating under the influence, information not provided to the jury. Although the court denied the motion, it issued further instructions to the jury to avoid print media publicity being released. The defendant presented no evidence that any juror read the article or possessed the newspaper. Absent reason to believe that any of the properly instructed jurors either had violated their oaths by reading a prejudicial newspaper article or accidentally had come across it and been exposed to its prejudicial contents, the court had the discretion not to inquire of them as to speculative exposure. A notorious article, prominently displayed in a local newspaper with a blaring headline, a boxed quotation or an accompanying photograph stating or displaying prejudicial information about a case reasonably might raise the possibility of juror exposure to such publicity and resulting taint to the realm of fact at least to the point of requiring further judicial inquiry, regardless of whether the jury was instructed to avoid media coverage. Here, the prejudicial content was not so conspicuously published. Additionally, the prosecutor improperly argued that Muchas attempts to secure legal representation before the Breathalyzer test were indicative of his guilt. The impropriety did not deprive Mucha of a fair trial.