Thursday, October 31, 2013

Law Firm's Website Should Stay Up Despite Googling Jurors

This week a California appellate court ruled (Steiner v. Volkswagen Group of America) that it was unconstitutional for a trial judge to order an attorney to remove information about prior courtroom victories from her law firm's website. The appellate court found the trial judge's actions to be an "unlawful prior restraint on the attorney's free speech rights under the First Amendment." Apparently, the trial judge had ordered the removal on behalf of defendant's counsel who thought that jurors might go online and research the attorney and discover that she obtained victories in two cases that raised similar issues to the ones being tried. Rather than direct the attorney to remove the information, the appellate court determined that the judge should have issued admonitions to the jury not to research or investigate the case or the parties involved. 

To read a more in-depth law review article about the issue of jurors researching cases and parties go here. To read news articles about this case go here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Colonial Juries in India: New Law Review Article

New law review article by Kalyani Ramnath
The Colonial Difference between Law and Fact: Notes on the Criminal Jury in India
Indian Economic and Social History Review Vol. 50 (2013), p. 341

ABSTRACT: This article tracks the rise and fall of criminal jury in colonial India through official and non-official debates, discussions and interventions. The discussion on criminal juries in the Anglo-American system has typically focused on the division of legal labour between judge and jury. In colonial India, this conventional difference between ‘law’ and ‘fact’ were shaped by notions of belonging to a different race, religion and language. These were frequently articulated as the story of the ‘unreliable’ juror or the ‘religious’ native who feared eternal damnation. From the jurors who were allegedly intoxicated by the publicity over the infamous Nanavati trial to women jurors who claimed to be followed on the way home from court, to the religious Brahmin juror who would not swear an oath, the story of the criminal jury is peopled with anxieties over undesirable forms of influence, that impinge on legal impartiality. Using the criminal jury as a lens, I look at the claims of universal legal reform as particularly lending themselves to contestations over sovereignty.

Friday, October 25, 2013

JonBenet Ramsey 1999 Grand Jury Indictment now Available

In 1999, a Boulder County Grand Jury issued a True Bill charging the parents of JonBenet Ramsey with Child Abuse Resulting in Death.  However, the prosecutor, who presented the evidence to the grand jury, declined to sign the True Bill; therefore, the parents were never indicted.  The prosecutor stated that "I and my prosecutorial team believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of charges against anyone who has been investigated at this time."

To read the True Bill, which is only four pages, go here.  To read more about the story go here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Update: Jurors in Neo-Nazi Trial will be Anonymous

Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that he would use anonymous jurors in the criminal trial of former neo-Nazi activist William A. White.  White is on trial in federal court for sending a threatening communication to his ex-wife in an attempt to extort money.  Previously, in 2011, White was convicted of soliciting violence against a juror in Illinois.  The judge stated that in his 41 years on the bench he had "never empaneled an anonymous jury."  The judge went on to say that he is "reluctantly going to permit it in this case."

To read more about this case go here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jurors May be Anonymous in Neo-Nazi Trial

In the criminal trial of former neo-Nazi activist William A. White federal prosecutors are asking the judge to conceal the names of prospective jurors.  Previously, in 2011, White was convicted of soliciting violence against a juror in Illinois.  White is now on trial for sending a threatening communication to his ex-wife in an attempt to extort money.   In arguing for the anonymous jury, prosecutors stated that White "and his associates are capable of harming jurors and are likely to interfere with the judicial process as they have in the past."  White opposes the government's motion for anonymous jury. 

To read more about this case go here.  To  read about prior posts on anonymous juries go here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Update: Juror Removed for Hand Gesture

I previously blogged about a juror who gave the defendant the middle finger after he allegedly stole the juror's cab in New York City on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, defense counsel moved to have the juror removed claiming that she is likely to have a grudge against the defendant.  However, the judge refused to do so because he determined after questioning the juror that she could be fair.  Furthermore, the judge found that the juror did not recognize the person who took her cab.  It should be noted that his juror is also an attorney.
On Friday, the court reversed itself and removed the juror.  The court reported that the juror in question read a newspaper article about the incident. 

To learn more about this case go here

Friday, October 18, 2013

Despite Hand Gesture to Defendant, Juror Remains on Trial

Although she gave the defendant the middle finger, a juror in a federal criminal corruption trial involving 3 defendants will remain on the case.  Apparently, the gesture arose after the defendant allegedly stole the juror's cab in New York City on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, defense counsel moved to have the juror removed claiming that she is likely to have a grudge against the defendant.  However, the judge refused to do so because he determined after questioning the juror that she can be fair, and she did not recognize the person who took her cab.  It should be noted that his juror is also an attorney. I am not quite sure why the judge didn't remove this juror just to cut down on the number of appellate issues that may arise if the defendants are convicted.

h/tip ABA Journal

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Not Ineffective Assistance for Keeping Juror who is Friends with the Prosecutor

In People v. Eddie Thompson, the Court of Appeals of New York held that it was not ineffective assistance of counsel to keep a juror [William Peters] who was long-time friends with the prosecutor.  In Thompson, the defendant, who was acquitted of second degree murder but convicted of manslaughter in the death of his girlfriend, argued that it was ineffective assistance of counsel for his attorney to fail to exercise a peremptory challenge to remove Peters.  Although defense counsel did ask that the judge challenge Peters for cause, he never used one of his peremptories to strike him.

According to the court,

[i]t could be argued that counsel's decision not to use a peremptory challenge on Peters was a mistake for two reasons: because Peters, as a juror, would be biased in the prosecution's favor; and because, by not using a peremptory challenge to excuse him, counsel failed to preserve for appeal any claim that the court erred in rejecting the for-cause challenge.

The court made quick work of the first argument stating that

[it] is a weak one, because defense counsel may reasonably have thought Peters an acceptable juror from the defense point of view.

In contrast, the second argument merited more discussion.  According to the court,

[c]ounsel's choice not to exercise a peremptory challenge deprived defendant of the opportunity to make that argument on appeal; under CPL 270.20 (2), where a defendant has not exhausted his peremptory challenges, a denial of a challenge for cause "does not constitute reversible error unless the defendant . . . peremptorily challenges such prospective juror."'

In affirming the defendant's conviction, the court ultimately concluded that

counsel's mistake, if it was one, was not the sort of "egregious and prejudicial" error that amounts to a deprivation of the constitutional right to counsel

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

E-Jurors: A View from the Bench

E-Jurors: A View from the Bench

E-Jurors: A View from the Bench (Forthcoming in the Cleveland State Law Review)
By Judge Antoinette Plogstedt
Abstract: Electronic jurors pose new twists to an old problem. With emerging technology in mobile devices, social media, and internet research, juror misconduct exists in new shapes and forms. Many jurisdictions have made attempts to curb electronic misconduct by modifying standard jury instructions and confiscating juror cell phones. Some judges have implemented jury instructions which remind jurors to refrain from communicating about the case and conducting on-line research. However, their efforts fall short. In previous literature, practitioners, students and a few scholars have offered suggestions on modifying jury instructions to better inform jurors of prohibited misconduct. To address the overall electronic juror problem, this Article explains, from a unique judicial vantage point, that the jury system should be improved by better educating judges on emerging technology and social trends; improving jury instructions to specify changing mobile devices, social media sites and internet research with clear reasons for the prohibited conduct; encouraging attorneys to address social media and juror internet use; and engaging active jurors. This Article’s most critical recommendations include encouraging juror questioning of witnesses and adopting the Author’s specific proposed jury instruction, which identifies a detailed and comprehensive list of social media sites and internet search tools, along with compelling reasons for refraining from misconduct.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Defendant Wants New Trial Because of Blogging Juror/Attorney

While the idea of jurors blogging during trial is troublesome, it is not necessarily a new concept.  Unfortunately, it is becoming an all too common occurrence.  What is new, however, is when that juror also happens to be a licensed attorney.  This was the situation before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week in Donald McNeely v. Mattew Cate.

In a nutshell, McNeely, who was convicted for burglary and sentenced to 38 years and 8 months because he was a habitual offender, argued that he should be granted a new trial because the foreman on his jury failed to inform the court that he was an attorney and had blogged about the case. 
Initially, the California Supreme Court had vacated the defendant's conviction.  However, on remand it was reinstated. Subsequent to that reinstatement, a federal district court judge denied the defendant's habeas motion which was then appealed to the 9th Circuit.

It remains to be seen whether or not the defendant will be successful at the 9th Circuit.  Based on the tenor of the questions asked to McNeely's counsel, it did not look promising for the defendant. 

To hear the audio of the oral argument go here.

For more background on the case go here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jurors and Long Trials

This article discusses the challenges the court will face in empaneling a jury for the upcoming trial of five former employees of Bernard Madoff.  As some may recall, Madoff ran the largest Ponzi scheme in the history of the United States. The trial involving Madoff's five former employees is expected to last close to 6 months which for many jurors is too long.  Due to the projected length of the trial, the article predicts that many of the prospective jurors will be retirees, the unemployed and people who work for the government or big companies.  The article also explores the stress that long trials place on jurors. 

MSN News: Madoff associate trials: Finding jurors not easy

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stupid Juror Questions? The British Trial of Vicki Pryce

Stupid Juror Questions

Everyone knows there is no such thing as a stupid question. Well, at least every parent, teacher, counselor, advisor, librarian and boss is evidently aware of the truth of that simple maxim. Nonetheless, the obvious utility of asking questions – seeking wisdom; requesting clarification; locating information – appears to have eluded certain high officials in the justice system of the United Kingdom, not to mention a raft of journalists, a clutch of parliamentarians, and a good swath of the British public, all of whom expressed consternation at a series of written questions posed by the jurors in a high profile, though relatively low stakes, criminal case. “Do we need IQ tests for juries?” wondered one pundit, who fumed that the jury’s questions had “exposed a breathtaking level of ignorance and stupidity.” Another echoed the thought, asking whether the jury was “stupid or just confused?” This article analyzes the ten infamous questions posed by the jury in the British trial of Vicki Pryce, who was accused of “perverting the course of justice” in an attempt to advance the political career of her now-former husband. Drawing upon legal history, criminal procedure, and cognition science, we conclude that the jury’s questions were far more perceptive than the court and the British pundits realized.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Selecting Death Penalty Jurors

The article below provides an overview of issues that can arise when selecting jurors in a capital case.  Although the focus here is on looking at cases that arose in California, this article should be helpful to anyone interested in learning more about how jurors are selected in death penalty trials.  The author notes that "Jury selection issues [in death penalty cases] often comprise the bulk of the California Supreme Court’s legal analysis on appeal."

The author questions whether trial judges work equally as hard to rehabilitate both pro and anti-death penalty jurors.  He seems to indicate that California trial judges are more inclined to keep pro-death penalty jurors but excuse anti-death penalty jurors. Are Trial Courts Even-Handed in Excusing Jurors Based on their Views on the Death Penalty?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

6,000 Prospective Jurors to be Summoned for the James Holmes Trial (Aurora Theater Shooter)

According to media reports, approximately 6,000 jurors will get a summons on Jan 3rd to hear the case of Colorado v. James Holmes.  Mr. Holmes is accused of killing and injuring numerous people in a movie theater in Aurora, CO in 2012. This will be one of the largest jury pools in the history of Colorado.  Once the potential jurors complete questionnaires, they will be called up in groups of 300 until the jury is seated. The trial judge wants 12 jurors and 12 alternates.  Jury selection is expected to take 8 weeks.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

CA Gov Vetoes Bill to Allow Non-Citizens to Serve on Juries

California was poised to be the first state to allow non-citizens to serve on juries.  However, Governor Brown yesterday vetoed legislation that would have allowed that to occur.  In discussing his reasoning for vetoing the legislation the governor stated,

Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship.  This bill would permit lawful permanent residents who are not citizens to serve on a jury. I don't think that's right.

To read the LA Times article about the veto go here.

To read an earlier post about this topic go here.

Grand Juries Run Amok

Here is an interesting story about what can happen when citizens are allowed to impanel grand juries-a role traditionally reserved to the prosecutor.  At least six states permit its citizens, if they gather enough signatures, to impanel a grand jury. While this may sound like a good idea in theory, e.g., to fight government corruption, it has the potential to become a political tool.

In one example, a group was able to get enough signatures (2% of the registered voters in the county) to investigate a bronze sculpture in the Overland Park Arboretum.  According to those who convened the grand jury, the sculpture is obscene. While some may see this is as direct democracy in action, others like the author of the article view it as "legalized mob justice."  To date, Overland Park officials have had to expend significant resources to defend the sculpture from criminal charges. 

To learn more about the story go here.

To see the sculpture or learn about the group investigating it go here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Judge Prohibits Use of Juror Interviews by Defendant

As some may recall, Federal District Judge Linda Reade was none too happy when she discovered that two attorneys conducted post-trial interviews with jurors.  The attorneys in question  were working on behalf of their client Sholom Rubashkin, a former kosher slaughterhouse manager.  Mr. Rubashkin was convicted at trial and sentenced to a 27-year prison term for financial fraud.

According to the judge, these interviews, "annoyed and frightened" the jurors.  Furthermore, the attorneys failed to request and obtain permission from the court prior to conducting the interviews.  Some, but not all, jurisdictions require attorneys to first get permission from the court in order to interview jurors post-trial.  At least one juror complained about the interviews to the prosecutor's office.  

In response to the actions of the attorneys, the Judge Reade has prohibited the use of these interviews in any appeal or pardon for Mr. Rubashkin.  Furthermore, the judge has directed that all interviews and information derived from them be submitted to her chambers by next week.
To read more about the case go here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Celebrity Jurors

Here is a British article on celebrity jurors.  The article basically says that celebrity jurors are not necessarily a good thing for the legal system.

The Guardian: Charlie Sheen: are celebrity jurors ever a good thing?