Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Criticism of the Volunteer Jury Bill

As some may recall, last week I posted about the efforts of a New Jersey state legislator who has introduced a bill to allow citizens to volunteer for jury duty.  The post and information about the bill can be found here.

This week the South Jersey Times has come out with an editorial criticizing the bill.  One of the main points made by the editorial is that

    [t]he main problem is that eagerness to do this civic duty rarely walks hand in hand with pure neutrality

To read the complete editorial go here

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Witness Attempts to Contact Juror Through Social Media

A story out of Allentown, PA provides just one more example of social media's impact on jurors.  Here, a witness in the Amanda Hein first-degree murder trial was apparently lovestruck by one of the jurors so much so that he attempted to contact the juror through social media.  The witness posted the following ad on Craigslist Missed Connections:

you were a juror in the allentown baby killing case - m4w (Easton)
© craigslist - Map data © OpenStreetMap
669 washington street
(google map) (yahoo map)
eye color : green height : 6'2" (187cm)
You...blonde juror 2nd row in the Amanda Catherine Hein case Me...testified first thing Wednesday morning about an online/phone relationship with Amanda You...smiling at me Me...making eye contact and trying not to make it obvious I was smiling back
Hope you get done soon
hope to hear from you
  • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers

The court learned about the ad on Wednesday and the jury returned its guilty verdict on Thursday.  Fortunately for the prosecution, it appears that the juror in question was unaware of the ad.  Thus, it is highly unlikely that the actions of the witness could lead to a mistrial or new trial for the defendant.

However, this case illustrates why judges must educate everyone in the courtroom to include witnesses about what they can and cannot do on social media.  The actual Craigslist posting can still be accessed online.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Asymmetry as Fairness: Reversing a Peremptory Trend: New Law Review Article

Asymmetry as Fairness: Reversing a Peremptory Trend


Anna Roberts

AbstractA recent Ninth Circuit decision, prohibiting peremptory challenges on the basis of sexual orientation, reveals the continuing evolution of the Batson doctrine. Meanwhile, contrary judicial voices demand the abolition of the peremptory challenge. This Article uncovers two phenomena that militate against abolition of the peremptory challenge, and in favor of allowing Batson’s evolution. First, the justifications for abolition apply asymmetrically to prosecution and defense, suggesting that an asymmetrical solution is more appropriate. Second, the states historically adopted an asymmetrical solution — unequal allocation of peremptory challenges to prosecution and defense — and yet many state legislatures have recently abandoned asymmetry, declaring that there are no reasons not to. This Article supplies those reasons, demonstrating that asymmetrical allocation of peremptory challenges not only brings benefits in the jury selection context, but also helps resist tendencies elsewhere in the criminal justice system to equate asymmetry with unfairness, and thus to erode foundational protections.

Monday, April 7, 2014

NJ Bill to Allow Volunteer Jurors

New Jersey state Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) has introduced a bill (A2949) to create a new pool of potential jurors from volunteers. The relevant portions of the bill can be found below.

1.    N.J.S. 2B:20-2 is amended to read as follows:
     2B:20-2. a. The names of persons eligible for jury service shall be selected from a single juror source list of county residents whose names and addresses shall be obtained from a merger of the following lists:  registered voters, licensed drivers, filers of State gross income tax returns, [and] filers of homestead rebate or credit application forms and a separate, voluntary list of persons available for jury service including but not limited to persons who are retired, or employed part-time, compiled annually by the county clerk of each county.  The county election board, the ounty clerk, the [Division of Motor Vehicles] New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the State Division of Taxation shall provide these lists annually to the Assignment Judge of the county.  The Assignment Judge may provide for the merger of additional lists of persons eligible for jury service that may contribute to the breadth of the juror source list.  Merger of the lists of eligible jurors into a single juror source list shall include a reasonable attempt to eliminate duplication of names, except that persons whose names appear on the separate, voluntary list of persons available for jury service shall not be eliminated for duplication, and may appear up to two times in a merged juror source list
     b.    The juror source list shall be compiled once a year or more often as directed by the Assignment Judge. 
     c.    The juror source list may be expanded by the Supreme Court as it deems appropriate.  

This bill if enacted into law would raise potential constitutional questions with respect to the defendant's 6th Amendment right to a fair-cross section of jurors.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Names of Zimmerman Jurors Released

Eight months after six jurors acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the trial judge handling the case has decided to release the names of the jurors to the general public.

Orland Sentinel (blog): Names of six jurors who acquitted George Zimmerman made public

Monday, March 31, 2014

Exempting Nursing Mothers from Jury Duty

Missouri is set to become the latest state to exempt nursing mothers from jury duty.  Both the Missouri Senate and House have passed legislation which would allow nursing mothers to avoid jury duty so long as they provide the court with a doctor's note.  The legislation now awaits final signature of the governor.

Once the legislation is signed into law, Missouri would join several other states that exempt nursing mothers from jury duty.  According to the web site of the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 jurisdictions provide such exemptions(California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Virginia.)

The push for the Missouri legislation was started last year after one potential juror was held in contempt for bringing her seven month old child to jury duty.  According to the judge, this juror "willfully and contemptuously appeared for jury service with  her child and no one to care for the child.”   Fortunately for this prospective juror, the judge agreed to hold off on collecting the $500 fine until after the legislative session.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Neuro-Voir Dire and the Architecture of Bias: New Law Review Article

Neuro-Voir Dire and the Architecture of Bias: New Law Review Article

Dov Fox

Dov Fox
ABSTRACT:Courts and commentators routinely assume that “bias” on the jury encompasses any source of influence upon jurors that does not come directly from the evidence presented at trial. This sweeping conception of juror bias is flawed because it fails to distinguish the prejudices and affinities that infect jury decisionmaking from the experiences and perspectives that enrich it.

This Article uses a thought experiment informed by the neuroscience of bias to illuminate the complexity of juror influences that go by the name of bias. I distinguish four distinct categories of juror influence: personal interests, community interests, case-specific beliefs, and case-general beliefs. I apply this spectrum of juror bias to provide a sounder way to think about what kind of juries we want.

I argue that trial courts should limit the interrogation and disqualification of prospective jurors to personal interests in the case — whether social or financial — and to case-specific beliefs arising from pretrial facts or rumors about the parties or events. By contrast, I would permit no such wholesale exclusion, either for community interests, which range from principles of justice to desires for vengeance, or for case-general beliefs about social causes or groups, which span scruples to dogmatism, and empathy to bigotry.

My proposal to abolish challenges for these latter categories of outside influence raises the serious concern that accommodating their presence on the jury risks facilitating unjust outcomes, jury nullification, and hung juries. Trial courts should mitigate these risks by adopting two bias-tempering measures. First, jury pools should be diversified in ways that social cognition research suggests would attenuate the influence of unreflective or objectionable attitudes. Second, judges should instruct deliberating jurors to express, along with their own position, the strongest counterarguments to it, so as to disrupt exaggerated assumptions of division and facilitate openness to persuasion.