Friday, December 01, 2006

If you were on trial, would you want this jury to decide your future?

In the murder trial of a man accused of killing an Indiana college student, the jury was sequestered for two weeks at a hotel and engaged in some 'extracurricular activity' themselves

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (AP) -- Jurors in the trial of a man accused of killing an Indiana University student got "giggly" while sequestered at a hotel, records show -- with men racing each other wearing high heels, food fights, football and Frisbee.

The defense is not amused, but may not be able to do much about it.

A judge denied a defense attorney's motion for a mistrial based on the behavior, and a legal expert said jurors' antics did not constitute misconduct....

Defense attorney Patrick Baker said he would have "plenty to say" during the sentencing hearing about the jury's behavior.

"We will certainly raise those issues on appeal," he said....

On the morning of the verdict, attorneys and Judge Christopher Burnham questioned jurors and security officers in private about their drinking, communications and other behavior, according to a transcript of the interviews.

Jurors denied exceeding a two-drink limit imposed by Burnham but acknowledged some "giggly" behavior, including the food fights and painting some of the men's toenails.

It should not be surprising that jurors feel a need for relief when they are separated from their normal lives, Bradley said.

The judge appeared to share that view.

"They are 15 people who were removed from their families and sequestered together and controlled as to what they could do," Burnham said in the transcript. "I could see, I would expect normal behavior to let off a little steam."

The problem here is that this jury was supposed to be deciding a murder case. On one hand is justice for the victim, on the other hand is making sure that the accused is in fact guilty. Having a two week party at the state's expense may already be a questionable use of taxpayer funds, but what is really galling about this is the fact that this jury apparently was pretty busy with the nonsense to the extent that they clearly didn't have much time to focus on the case. And it may well have opened a hole in the case for which appeals will cost more money and could conceivably end up in a reversal of the decision.

I was on a grand jury several months ago (blogged on in the post My Grand Jury Experience) and I always thought that all of us on the Grand Jury took the business at hand seriously and did not engage in monkey business while we should be paying attention to a case.

And yes, there may be some need to 'blow off steam,' but clearly what this jury did was unusual enough to provoke a court challenge based on jury behavior. Juries are sequestered all the time in high profile cases, but that shouldn't be reason to run amok.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whoa, Eli. Jury deliberations are supposed to occur only in the jury chamber, and are *not* supposed to occur in the hotel where the jury is being sequestered. In fact, jurors are instructed to discuss the case with noone, even other jurors, from the beginning of the trial. At least that was what the instructions were when I served on a jury.

Sequestering occurs these days only when the case is highly publicized and the judge is worried that this could unduly prejudice their deliberations. These people were isolated for two weeks - no news, no work, no contact with friends, and little or no contact with their families. That's a pretty harsh sentence for the jury. I think their reactions were pretty stupid and juvenile, but I'm not all that surprised at them, and I'm certainly not going to condemn them.

As to the "court challenge" that sounds like basic lawyer posturing - laying the groundwork for an appeal (and getting some sensationalized publicity to boot). There's no way the prosecutor could make much out of a similar case (except politically) since had their been a hung jury (mistrial) the state would have had to try the case over again with a new jury, while if there's been an acquittal I doubt that anything short of outside interference with the jury (bribes, threats, etc.) would be a viable reason for getting a new trial.