Florida has recently updated its instructions on the use of electronic devices by jurors. I like these updates because they provide the all important "why." As I have stated numerous times before, if you want jurors to buy-in to the rules you have to tell them why the rules are important.
Lawyers for Aaron Hernandez, the former professional football player now on trial for the murder of Odin Loyd, want the court to grant them additional peremptory challenges. The defense attorneys claim that they need the additional peremptories to remove so-called "stealth" jurors from the venire. In the Scott Peterson trial, several stealth or rogue jurors tried to lie their way onto the panel. Stealth jurors have a variety of different agendas ranging from thrill seeking to strong feelings for or against the defendant to a desire to cash in on their jury experience.
The Chicago Tribune has a very interesting article on a jury bill (SB 3075) that recently passed the Illinois legislature. The bill was sponsored by Representative Kelly Burke and supported by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.
The bill reduces the number of civil jurors from 12 to 6 and increases juror pay from $25 to $50 a day. According to the newspaper, this bill may sound good and make for a good press release, but it is bad for the state because it hasn't been properly vetted and raises a host of concerns.
Starting Feb 2, 2015, courts in Massachusetts will move from judge conducted voir dire to attorney conducted voir dire. This change will impact both civil and criminal cases. To learn more about how attorney led voir dire will be handled in Massachusetts gohere.
The history of the Grand Jury in the Anglo-American legal system is briefly sketched in the context of its role as an arbiter of control of police violence and illegal behavior. The nature of charging of police with crimes associated with shooting civilians, especially minorities and the ethnic and gender makeup of Grand Juries is considered as a factor. The cost of liability to cities from police shoots is addressed in the context of the benefits of professional police services versus alternatives.
In light of the recent negative attention received by grand juries, there has been a call by some to abolish them. While states are not required by the U.S. Constitution to use a grand jury, the federal government is. Thus, absent amending the constitution, always a dangerous proposition, grand juries must be used for all felony crimes unless the defendat waives his right to a grand jury.
Rather than abolish grand juries, I think we should work on improving them. For example, I have long advocated giving grand jurors their own legal advisor.
The SCT has issued its opinion in Warger v. Shauers. No surprises here as the Supreme Court upheld the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and ruled in a unanimous decision that juror comments during deliberations cannot be used to show dishonesty during jury selection.
This case arose out of a motor vehicle accident in which a motorcyclists collided with a truck. The motorcyclist (petitioner/plaintiff) lost his leg and then subsequently brought a negligence action against the driver of the truck (respondent/defendant). The jury, after two trials the first of which ended in a mistrial, found in favor of the driver of the truck.
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 FRE 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 except for testimony regarding whether an outside influence was used to persuade any juror. 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. Courts of appeal, however, have not been uniform in their application of this rule. This ruling should provide them better guidance.
To access the opinion go here. To access oral arguments go here.
The new Manhattan county clerk, former State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling, wants to make Manhattan juries more diverse. The former judge states that in his prior experience on the bench the individuals who showed up for jury duty did not necessarily reflect the various groups of people who lived in Manhattan. Therefore, when he takes over on 1 January, he plans to recruit potential jurors from senior centers, community organizations, and high schools. According to the future clerk,
We have people who are professional juror avoiders and I want to change that...We are the most opinionated people in New York. Everybody in Manhattan has an opinion about everything. Being in a jury gives you an opportunity to have your opinion mean something to somebody. You are not just mouthing off.