A number of high profile matters are seeing action in the Commonwealth at the moment. One of them is a trial in Fall River. It is the murder trial of former new England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez. This trial concerns murder allegations that Hernandez killed Odin Lloyd.
This morning, the taking of evidence in the trial itself was paused because of another type of hearing was taking place. It involved the questioning and then removal of one of the jurors.
Bristol County Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh, the trial judge, questioned the juror outside the hearing of the public assembled in the courtroom.
At first, there was speculation that the issue had to do with the Super Bowl which took place on Sunday. As this was the first day back since the game (Monday court was cancelled because of the weather), folks wondered if the juror had broken the judge’s admonition regarding the game.
The judge had told jurors they were allowed to watch the game but had to leave the room or distance themselves if Hernandez’s name came up.
While the actual details have not yet been revealed, we do know that the juror was removed from the jury panel.
After a closed-door hearing that lasted more than 90 minutes, Judge Garsh said that there was credible evidence that the juror had specifically discussed an opinion about the case, including that it would be hard to convict Hernandez without the murder weapon, which has never been found. She said the juror also discussed several items of evidence that the court has ruled are inadmissible in this case.
“Over the last few years, the juror has expressed an interest in serving on this particular jury,” the court said. “There is credible evidence that the juror has attended more Patriots games than were disclosed on the questionnaire.”
“Discharge of the juror is indeed in the best interest of justice,” Judge Garsh said.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the juror issue came to light. When the 17 remaining members of the jury came back, they were informed that one juror had been dismissed for “purely personal reasons” unrelated to the case.
Hernandez faces life imprisonment if convicted of killing Lloyd. There are also other murder charges pending against him.
Attorney Sam’s Take On The Issue Of Jurors
” ‘Leave the room if Hernandez’ name is mentioned’? How is that supposed to work?”
The problem is that the issue of keeping a juror fair and impartial is not a simple one. In some cases, jurors are kept sequestered for the duration of either their deliberation or the entire trial itself. It would seem to be the only way to prevent outside influences from effecting the juror.
Great pains are taken in jury trials to control what information is presented to jurors. It is generally the reason for all those delays which frustrate jurors while the attorneys and the judge discuss evidentiary issues up at the bench. The fact is, though, that jurors are seldom if ever given all the facts of a given case. There is a great deal of cases and statutes which determine that certain things would be unduly prejudicial for the jury to know.
When, as in this case, a juror is found to have been dishonest with the court in her previous answers to questions, it is usually a hint that this juror cannot be trusted to follow the court’s instructions during the trial.
But that is in the courtroom.
We are living in a world where information is everywhere. Sometimes it is reliable; sometimes it is not reliable. Either way, it might be something that could influence a juror.
“Can you really shield a juror from all of life’s information?”
Not really, but we try. Believe it or not, the jurors themselves usually try. In my experience, jurors actually take what judges tell them seriously. So, the idea of leaving the room if Hernandez’ name is mentioned may seem odd to you, but I’ll bet that the jurors followed the instruction.
If you are going to be a party in a jury trial, you had best understand this concern regarding the jury.
The jurors will decide the fate of a defendant. Contrary to what you have been told, they do not make these decisions based upon either evidence or the law as the judge gives it to them.
My experience tells me that jurors make their decisions based upon their perceptions of the evidence and the law as the judge gives it to them. This includes their feelings and thoughts at the time they heard the evidence or the law. This is critical to recognize if you want to have your best shot with a jury.
This is why I tell my clients that everything they do, say or look in the courthouse is an argument to that jury. While listening to evidence, you can be sure that the jury is looking over at the defendant to watch his or her reaction. Does the defendant look sleazy? Confident? Guilty?
That’s right. It is also why you want to have an experienced trial attorney representing you. Someone who understands a jury. Someone who is used to being in front of the jury.
That is the type of attorney who can best advise and defend you.
For the original stories upon which this blog was based, please go to http://www.bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2015/02/judge_questions_juror_in_aaron_hernandez_murder_trial and http://www.bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2015/02/judge_removes_juror_from_aaron_hernandez_murder_trial