June 16, 2011

Jurors Gone Wild

Part of the operating theory for juries is that jurors are supposed to bring their common sense to the table when deciding a case. Jurors are specifically told not to leave their life experiences at the door. It’s important to bring a “lay” person’s perspective into the process. Given how much we rely on jurors to exercise common sense, it’s always a shame to see so many demonstrate a total lack of it.

Witness the antics of Joanne Fraill. Sitting on a jury in a drug trial in the UK (the third time this particular case had gone to trial), she apparently thought it would be a good idea to contact an already acquitted codefendant. Via Facebook, of course. As a result, the trial was again scuttled, resulting in several million pounds going down the drain. Yesterday, Fraill was sentenced to eight months in prison for contempt of court for the contact. It also came out that she had repeatedly searched the Net for information about the case. Given such flagrant violations of the judge’s orders, I’d say the punishment is about right.

Closer to home, a juror in a New York court in 2007 sent the judge what must have been one of the odder requests made of a jurist:
'The note mentioned, among other things, the breakup of the juror's marriage and her view that the male lawyer who sat in the second chair at the prosecution table was a 'cutie,'' the ruling explained. 'The juror asked, perhaps jokingly, to be given that lawyer's telephone number when the trial was over.'
Strange, but not strange enough to warrant a reversal of the resulting manslaughter conviction. An appellate court upheld the conviction, holding that the trial judge squelched any problems by talking to the juror about the note and “obtained her assurance” that she would be impartial. Color me unimpressed. A juror has already shown such bad judgment to ask for a lawyer’s phone number, and now you expect her to be honest about the effect of the infatuation? Appellate judges strike me as appallingly na├»ve sometimes.

When I was growing up, there was a high-profile murder trial in Charleston. Near the end, maybe during the actual deliberations (I can’t recall), it was discovered that a juror had brought a copy of the local paper into the jury room. Of course, it had a large front-page story about the trial in it. This was after jurors were explicitly told not to consult any outside sources of information. Mistrial, of course. Had to do the whole thing over again (defendant was convicted, IIRC). Of all the outrage surrounding the mistrial, I don’t recall much of it being directed at the idiot juror who caused the problem.

We all do dumb shit, of course. Jurors are no different. But sometimes they seem to do things so beyond the pale of good sense that it’s a wonder they make it to the courthouse in one piece every morning.

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