Sometimes the sequel is much more interesting than the original . Even in the land of criminal justice!
Take the ongoing Mattapan massacre multiple murder trial for example. Last week, we discussed the surprising direct examination of the sole eyewitness regarding his “surprise” alleged redemption of memory…and eyewitness ability. Now, as the jury deliberates, the court was treated to another surprise…the need to excuse one of the deliberating jurors.
All judges are very careful to give certain instruction to jurors throughout a jury trial. The judge presiding over the trial, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke is a very well seasoned and deliberate jurist. You may be sure that he is not one likely to forget such admonitions. One of these admonitions is that jurors are not allowed to do their own research in a case. Rather, they are told that they must determine their verdict based solely on the evidence in the trial as applied to the law as the judge gives it. Of course, other obvious things may be used…such as the ability to reason and common sense.
The juror in this case did online ballistics research. That is a direct violation of the court’s Orders.
And so it was that Judge Locke had to announce, “A juror violated the rules I have given. One juror took it upon himself to do research and that is not evidence, only the testimony is evidence.”
To make matters worse, that juror may well have tainted the rest of the panel. Apparently the juror shared some of his research with other jurors. For this, of course, the judge chastised the juror. However, Judge Locke praised the other jurors who apparently indicated that they would disregard the information. In fact, the jury’s foreperson alerted the judge in writing this morning about the violation.
Judge Locke, finding that the research was not necessarily directly linked to the events on trial, determined that a mistrial did not need to be declared. He did, however dismiss the rogue juror and replaced him/her with an alternate juror.
“I cannot tell you how serious and upsetting a violation of a juror’s oath and obligation this was,” Locke said. He also explained that the deliberations would have to be started from the beginning.
Jury issues have complicated this matter which was not so clear-cut in the first place. First of all, the panel had to be bused in from Worcester throughout the five-week trial. Deliberations began for alittle under two days last week and cancelled on Friday due to a sick juror. Today, the court had to look into the matter of the juror violation. Deliberations were halted for a few hours as each member of the jury was questioned individually by the judge. After the jury was reconstituted and told they had to start from the beginning, the deliberations restarted at noon. Not surprisingly, no verdict was immediately forthcoming.
During the previous trial, the jury deliberated for seven days before finding the co-defendant “not guilty” and announcing they were deadlocked as to Dwayne Moore, the defendant presently standing re-trial.
Attorney Sam’s Take on Juror Integrity
Simply put, particularly in criminal cases, without jurors, the system collapses.
Jurors are simply ordinary people from the public who are given a great deal of power in a certain case. In order to prepare them in the exercising of that power, judges instruct them as to both the applicable law and their role. In our system, we have determined that simply gaining a verdict from “learned” legal experts is not always desirable. Sometimes, the common-sense approach of lay people, our peers, seems more appropriate. Therefore, in jury trials, we divide the power. The judge decides the issues of law and the jury decides the issues of fact.
We lawyers have developed sometimes complicated rules about the evidence a jury is allowed to hear. In order to be sure that jurors’ judgments are not tainted by things the system has decided they should not hear, a judge must be extremely careful in his or her instructions and care of the jurors. The jurors, in turn, are expected to obey said instructions.
Otherwise, the integrity of the system, an already imperfect system, fails.
“Couldn’t the judge simply tell the juror who did the research to simply forget about what was found?”
The juror had already demonstrated that he/she could not be trusted to take the role of the judge seriously. Therefore, there would always be a question as to whether that juror disregarded the research. It is not worth the risk, so….no.
“Well then, why not toss out the rest of the panel, at least those who had heard about the research?”
This was likely the toughest question for Judge Locke today. You may be sure that, should there be a conviction, the defense will try to argue that the entire panel should have been thrown out and a mistrial should have been declared.
“What is a mistrial?”
A mistrial is when, after a trial has begun, the proceedings must be stopped because something happened that called into significant question whether the parties would be able to get a fair trial. When a mistrial is declared, the court has to start the trial all over again from jury selection on through. When the “hung jury” was declared in the first trial, that was a mistrial. In this case, Judge Locke decided that a mistrial was not necessary.
For the original article upon which this blog is based, please go to http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1061180887&srvc=rss