Friday, November 9, 2012

Conway v. Arkansas (Juror Impartiality)

In Conway v. Arkansas, the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Samuel Lee Conway. Mr. Conway had been convicted of five counts of capital murder, two counts of aggravated residential burglary, and four counts of theft of property. He had also been sentenced to five life terms without parole and two additional life terms plus ninety years.

The Arkansas high court overturned the defendant's conviction based on a juror note. During Conway's trial, a juror sent the judge the following note: I don't think I can be a fair juror anymore

The judge brought the juror into chambers and the following colloquy took place:

THE PROSECUTOR: Now, do you think that once instructed at the end of this trial that you can render a fair and impartial verdict based on the evidence that you've heard from the witness stand from the exhibits you have seen?
JUROR SHEETS: I don't think so, sir. In my mind, I've made up my choice.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: [S]o you're saying that you don't believe your [sic] fair and impartial right now?
JUROR SHEETS: Not to him, sir.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: [Your] statement for this record [is] that you don't feel like you could be a fair and impartial juror?
JUROR SHEETS: No, sir.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: You don't feel like you could deliberate?
JUROR SHEETS: No, sir.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: You're done?
JUROR SHEETS: I think I'm pretty much solid on this one.

Even after this colloquy, the trial judge surprisingly denied the defendant's motion to dismiss the juror. Instead the judge stated the following:

I'm not gonna excuse him because I don't think that he's expressed anything other than the fact he has formed an opinion, which you have acknowledged jurors do then they go in and discuss it. If he reported that he refuses to deliberate once – if he is seated, once the case is submitted, that is another matter. But I do not think that anybody can sit through three days of testimony and not begin the formation of an opinion. That's just contrary to human nature and I think our process envisions that as the evidence is presented a juror assimilates it . . . . You know, and I appreciate your dilemma, that you've been informed that a jury has ben [sic] swayed by the State's evidence. But that doesn't disqualify 'em [sic] as a juror.

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