Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Monitoring a Juror's Twitter Account

 Today, a judge heard arguments about whether defense counsel for Jodi Arias should gain access to the Twitter accounts of the prospective jurors in Arias upcoming sentencing trial.  Here is the motion filed by the Arias defense team.

As some may recall, Arias was previously convicted in May of killing her on and off again boyfriend, Travis Alexander.  At the time of her conviction, the jurors could not decide whether or not Arias deserved the death penalty.  Thus, although she was convicted, she has not been completely sentenced.  Her case is in a state flux as prosecutors must decide if they want to seat a new jury in order to pursue the death penalty.  If a new jury is not empanelled, Arias will be sentenced to life.

According to defense counsel, they need access to the Twitter accounts of any future jurors to ensure that any decision made by the jury is based on evidence presented at trial not information gleaned from others via Twitter.  The defense attorneys also note that in Arias' earlier trial some jurors failed to strictly abide by the courts admonitions against using social media. 

It is highly unlikely that the court will grant the defense's request.  If courts start requiring jurors to turn over access to their social media accounts, many more prospective jurors will find reasons why they can't serve.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Foreign News About Juries

Recent international stories about juries

Lethbridge Herald: Juries Kept in the Dark (juror nullification)

Ottawa Citizen: Supreme Court will hear case on lack of aboriginals on juries (aboriginal jurors)

Australian Financial Review: Courts struggle to find solution to social media misuse (jurors and social media)

Jamaica Gleaner: Hunt continues for more jurors in Kartel case (selecting jurors in a high-profile case)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Old Fashion Juror Stalking Leads to New Trial

By now most are familiar with or have heard of attorneys using the internet to research or investigate jurors. Prior to the Digital Age, attorneys used more traditional methods to investigate jurors. At times, these methods could be quite intrusive e.g., some attorneys drove by the homes of jurors or interviewed the friends and neighbors of jurors. There is even a 1920s U.S. Supreme Court case (Sinclair v. United States) which discusses the practice.

Apparently, not all attorneys have forsaken these traditional methods. Recently, in Bohn v. Forba Holdings, a New York trial judge overturned a jury verdict because an attorney for the defense allegedly "stalked" the jurors. The actual attorney misconduct was not done by the attorneys litigating the case but by another attorney retained by the defendant to monitor the case.

After the jurors returned a verdict in favor of the defense in a dental malpractice case, the judge handling the case spoke with the jurors about their experience. During this time the judge learned that the attorney in question made the jurors feel extremely uncomfortable by his actions which included: following the jurors around; showing up at the same restaurants where they had lunch; and routinely joining them on the elevator. A few jurors even thought that the attorney actually videotaped them.

After learning this information, the judge held a hearing to question this specific attorney. As a result of this hearing and the information the judge learned from the jurors, she ordered a new trial for the plaintiffs. In ordering a new trial the judge determined that the attorney's actions violated the sanctity of the jury. Specifically, the trial judge found that

This is a case where jurors over a I5-day period believed that they were stalked, videotaped and closely monitored by a person they believed worked for defendants. This is a case where jurors performing their civic duty were made to feel bothered and scared. This is a case where the administration of the law was imperiled

Monday, November 18, 2013

SCT Punts on Judicial Overrides of Jury Decisions in Death Penalty Cases

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert. (refused to hear) the case of Woodward v. Alabama.  The issue in Woodward was whether a judge could override the jury's decision to spare the defendant from the death penalty.  Alabama is one of three states that allows the trial judge to override the recommendation of the jury with regards to sentencing the defendant to death.  In the specific case of Woodward, the jury voted 8-4 against imposing the death penalty and instead recommended that the defendant receive a life sentence without the chance for parole.  Nonetheless, the Alabama trial judge, after hearing new evidence, sentenced the defendant to death.

Two justices (Sotomayor and Breyer) dissented in the denial of cert.  In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor noted the following:

One Alabama judge, who has overridden jury verdicts to impose the death penalty on six occasions, campaigned by running several advertisements voicing his support for capital punishment. One of these ads boasted that he had “‘presided over more than 9,000 cases, includ­ing some of the most heinous murder trials in our history,’” and expressly named some of the defendants whom he had sentenced to death, in at least one case over a jury’s contrary judgment.

To read more about this case issue go here

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Juror Unanimity in Death Penalty Cases

Alabama and Florida are the only two states that don't require jurors to be unanimous when making life or death recommendations to the trial judge.  While the jurors must be unanimous with respect to deciding the criminal defendant's initial guilt or innocence i.e., 12-0, they need not be unanimous in the sentencing recommendation phase of the trial.  Thus, when recommending to the trial judge whether or not the defendant should be executed, the jury can be split 7-5 in Florida.  Alabama, however, does require at least a supermajority of 10-2. 

To read more about this topic go here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jurors and Sexual Orientation

Outside of stories about jurors improperly using technology, the topic du jour, at least in the world of juries, is whether prospective jurors may be struck because of their sexual orientation.  As discussed here, several states have or plan to introduce legislation to prohibit attorneys from using peremptory challenges to strike jurors because of their sexual orientation. 

The article below talks about two California cases one state, the other federal in which the court addresses whether attorneys can strike potential jurors because of their sexual orientation.  In the state case (People v. Garcia) decided in 2000, the California appellate court held that a criminal defendant's right to a jury representative of a cross-section of society was violated when prospective jurors were removed because of their sexual orientation.  This same issue is now currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in GlaxoSmithKline PLC v. Abbot Laboratories.  It remains to be seen how the 9th Circuit will rule and whether the case will find its way to the Supreme Court.

To read the entire article go here.