Friday, August 22, 2014

Prosecutors Disciplined for Criticizing Jurors on Facebook: "12 idiots"

According to the Brainerd Dispatch article below, two Minnesota prosecutors have been disciplined for going on Facebook to criticize jurors who acquitted a defendant in a criminal sexual misconduct case. The Facebook comments by the prosecutors have been subsequently removed.

Two assistant Clay County attorneys face disciplinary action after making disparaging comments over Facebook about a jury decision in a sexual assault trial

Clay County Attorney Brian Melton said Thursday that until the disciplinary action is final, he can’t talk about specific penalties, but he outlined the reasons he took action against Pamela Harris and Jenny Samarzja.

Melton said that several weeks ago he was made aware of comments the lawyers exchanged over Facebook in July after a trial in which Harris was the prosecutor ended in a not guilty verdict.
Melton said Harris posted comments on Facebook to the effect she didn’t think she’d be spending her whole week with “12 idiots.”

Samarzja implied it was not a shining moment for Clay County, according to Melton, and he said she punctuated her comment with, “Wake up people!”

Melton said that when he was alerted about the online comments, he told Harris to remove them and she did.

He said the statements were a violation of the public’s trust, and he apologized on behalf of his office for any offense jurors may have taken.

He said both attorneys are continuing to go about their regular duties.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Privacy and Juror Questionnaires

The NY Times article below highlights how invasive some juror questionnaires can be. Depending on the facts of the case, some jurors have been asked about abortion, adultery, drug use, race and political party affiliation.

TV Habits? Medical History? Tests for Jury Duty Get Personal

Do you believe in an “eye for an eye”? What do your parents do for a living? Do you watch “CSI”? “Dateline”? Read Have you ever undergone a medical procedure that required an anesthetic?

Welcome to jury service, where the seats are hard and the questionnaires increasingly long and nosy.

In a recently concluded federal racketeering trial in Brooklyn, potential jurors were asked what public figures they admired the most and the least. For a political corruption trial, they were asked to list their three favorite movies and what the bumper stickers on their cars said. For a current civil case concerning Israel, they were asked if they had “any feelings about Jews” that would make it difficult for them to serve.

Jury questionnaires have become a familiar presence in courtrooms across the United States, with some lawyers routinely requesting them in major cases — transforming the standard voir dire procedure into a written test.

“You can learn a lot from a questionnaire that you can’t learn in person,” said Daniel Gitner, a defense lawyer in Manhattan, noting that he preferred to use questionnaires. “You want to use a questionnaire anytime you have a real, considered view of what beliefs your jurors are coming to the courtroom with.”

 Click here to take the juror test.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Defendant's Girlfriend Arrested for Trying to Facebook Juror

To date, many people have heard stories about jurors improperly using the internet to conduct research or communicate with others. Unfortunately, the stories have become all too common. What most people don't hear about are stories in which individuals use the internet to contact jurors. It doesn't happen often but as the article below illustrates it can occur. What is not clear from the article is how the defendant's girlfriend obtained the name of the juror in order to send a Friend Request. 

Detroit News: Suspect's girlfriend arrested for trying to Facebook juror deciding his ...

Pontiac— A 22-year-old Goodrich woman has been jailed and faces contempt of court charges after allegedly contacting a male juror deliberating her boyfriend’s fate in a drug trial and asking him to “friend” her on Facebook.

Brianna Trovato was arrested on a bench warrant Wednesday morning outside Oakland Circuit Court after Judge Martha Anderson was informed by a juror he had received a friend request from Trovato. She had been sitting in court every day during the trial of her boyfriend, Samuel Misko, 23, also of Goodrich, who was convicted Wednesday of six counts of manufacturing with intent to deliver marijuana and six related firearms offenses...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SCT Briefs for Warger v. Shauers

Additional briefs for Warger v. Shauers, which will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this term, can be found below.  The issue in Shauers is as follows:

Does Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) permit a party moving for a new trial based on juror dishonesty during voir dire to introduce juror testimony about statements made during deliberations that tend to show the alleged dishonesty?
This case arose out of a motor vehicle accident in which a motorcyclists collided with a truck.  The motorcyclist-plaintiff lost his leg and then subsequently brought a negligence action against the truck driver.  The jury found in favor of the truck driver-defendant.

Shortly after the trial, a juror approached plaintiff's counsel and informed him that one juror, the forewoman, refused to decide the case on the evidence submitted.  This juror further informed plaintiff's counsel that the forewoman told other jurors during deliberations that her daughter had been at fault in a fatal automobile accident and that had she been sued it would have "ruined her life."

Plaintiff's counsel had the juror complete a sworn affidavit in which he detailed the actions of the forewoman.  However, the trial court, citing 606(b), refused to admit the affidavit into evidence. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision. 

Generally speaking, FRE 606(b), the juror anti-impeachment rule, prohibits the introduction of evidence concerning juror deliberations. FRE 606(b), is in place to: (1) provide verdict finality; (2) encourage jurors to freely express themselves during deliberations; and (3) reduce the amount of post-trial hounding jurors receive from attorneys.  The Courts of Appeal, however, have not been uniform in their application of FRE 606(b) which is why this case has been granted cert.  Hopefully, the SCT can provide the lower courts better guidance on the application of FRE 606(b).

Monday, August 18, 2014

MA Improves Jury Selection Process

The article below (Massachusetts Courts Streamline Jury Duty Selection Process) highlights the recent improvements made to the Massachusetts jury selection process. Of particular interest is the fact these reform efforts have dramatically improved juror utilization rates in the state. The article, among other things, states that  

...sophisticated computer software and improved communications among judicial employees, court officials have become better able than in the past to accurately predict how many prospective jurors will be needed in Massachusetts courts on any given day, according to state Jury Commissioner Pamela J. Wood.

The result, she said, has been a significant reduction in the number of people summoned for jury duty over the last several years and the number of prospective jurors who have had to report to court once summoned. A telephone call-in system enables court officials to cancel jurors the day before they are scheduled to report if it appears their services will not be needed.

The cuts, far greater than had been anticipated, occurred without the wheels of justice coming to a screeching halt, as some judges had feared, Ms. Wood said.

From 2007 through 2013, the number of prospective jurors appearing in courts statewide dropped 33.5 percent, from 324,389 to 215,565, according to statistics provided by the commissioner's office. During that same time frame, the number of jurors summoned statewide decreased 22.1 percent, from 870,206 in 2007 to 677,866 last year.

The Worcester Trial Court showed a 42.6 percent decrease in the number of jurors appearing over the  seven-year period, dropping from 19,708 in 2007 to 11,315 in 2013, according to Ms. Wood. The reductions in Fitchburg District Court and Western Worcester District Court in East Brookfield were 27.4 percent and 41.9 percent, respectively.

A major impetus for the initiative to cut back on the number of people being summoned for jury duty came in 2007, when the state Supreme Judicial Court asked the National Center for State Courts to conduct an assessment of juror utilization in the state court system.

Juror utilization is defined in the national center's report as "a term used to describe how well courts use the time of citizens who are told to report for jury service."

In its simplest form, it expresses the number of jurors who take part in an empanelment process by either being sworn as a juror, challenged by one of the lawyers in the case or excused by the court as a proportion of all jurors who report for service that particular day. Those not considered "used" either remain in the jury assembly room until excused or are sent to a courtroom, but not reached during jury selection.

Meeting with court officials and using the uniform reporting and data-gathering functions of an upgraded computer management system that had recently been implemented in the jury commissioner's office, those conducting the study looked at three months' worth of statewide numbers.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Texas Prosecutors Fight Release of Juror Home Addresses

In Montgomery County, Texas prosecutors are challenging an order of a trial judge to release the home addresses of jurors. Defense counsel requested this information in order to prove that African Americans are underrepresented on Montgomery County juries. Prosecutors have appealed the trial judge's decision. According to one of the prosecutors, juror personal information is confidential by law because "jurors need to be able to exercise their public duty of jury service without being afraid that their personal, private information will be turned over to criminals."

To read more about this situation go here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Using Group Dynamics to Train Jurors

Sarah Gordon

We ask juries to make important decisions that have a profound impact on people’s lives. We leave these decisions in the hands of groups of laypeople because we hope that the diverse range of experiences and knowledge in the group will lead to more thoughtful and informed decisionmaking. Studies suggest that diverse groups of jurors have different perspectives on evidence, engage in more thorough debate, and more closely evaluate facts. At the same time, there are a variety of problems associated with group decisionmaking, from the loss of individual motivation in group settings, to the vulnerability of groups to various cognitive biases and errors. Moreover, jurors are often at a disadvantage because most of them have never served on a jury and many of them have never worked with a group to reach a decision about a complex problem. Compounding these issues, jurors are not typically given instructions or training on working in a group or on effective decisionmaking strategies.

Although there is an extensive literature examining juries and jury deliberations, “All Together Now” is the first law journal article to consider all of the major scientific studies that examine training in group decisionmaking and apply them to jury decisionmaking. Many studies have examined group processes and group deliberations in the fields of social psychology, organizational psychology, business administration, advertising, and a variety of related areas. Moreover, countless studies examine group decisionmaking and recommend the use of training to improve group performance. Yet almost none of this interdisciplinary knowledge of group dynamics and the efficacy of training on group performance have been applied to one of the most fundamental group decisionmaking bodies — the jury. We can use this literature to create effective juror training procedures and give jurors strategies to more effectively deliberate and reach better group decisions.