Abolition of Jury Sentencing Awaits Virginia Governor’s Approval or Veto

final-jur-e headline

Abolition of Jury Sentencing Awaits Virginia Governor’s Approval or Veto

In the October 2 issue of the Jur-E Bulletin, we noted the Virginia legislature’s consideration of a bill to abolish jury sentencing in the Commonwealth.  Earlier this week, the General Assembly approved a Senate-passed bill to take sentencing out of the hands of jurors. The Daily Press in Newport News reports that proponents argued, “Unlike judges, juries in Virginia don't get discretionary state sentencing  guidelines and don't have the power to suspend time or run sentences together. And though judges have the power to reduce jury sentences later, they hardly ever do. A state report says they intervene on a jury's sentence only 8 percent of the time.”  Arguments on the other side included the claims that the abolition could lead to many more jury trials across the state without enough money to pay for it.  Governor Ralph Northam will be the next and last one to act on the proposal.

Dallas Summons 2,000 Jurors for One Trial

The Dallas Morning News reports that 2,000 citizens were summoned last week for virtual jury selection in an auto accident case.  The newspaper provides us with a diagram of courtroom set up that promotes safe social distancing.  It also describes how, in the face of 42% of Dallas households lacking high-speed Internet service for virtual participation in voir dire, the court will provide a tablet to citizens with Zoom installed on it for their daily use as jurors.

Does a Juror’s Post-Trial Accolades for Prosecutor, Fashion Commentary, and a Broadly Stated Verdict Form Grounds for New Trial?

In U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission v. Westport Capital Markets LLC et al., the losing defendants sought a new trial by pointing to a juror’s "congratulatory and gossipy handwritten letter" (including a remark about a defendant’s wife wearing Prada shoes) to an SEC attorney a week after the trial concluded and the verdict form showing that a summary judgment on a legal question was issued against defendants.  Law 360 reports U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer denied the request, saying the letter did not suggest the juror was dishonest about being fair and impartial or had "decided from the outset to rule against Westport and McClure because of their wealth.”  Meyer also opined, "In no sense was the physical appearance of McClure's wife 'extraneous' in view of her personal presence at trial and McClure's choice to highlight her presence when he testified.  Nor was the alleged $3,000 price tag for McClure's wife's shoes a piece of extraneous prejudicial information."

Orange County Celebrates Jury Appreciation Week

The Orange County (California) Superior Court will celebrate and recognize citizens who stepped up to serve on juries during the pandemic with a special Juror Appreciation Week from October 26 to October 30.  In a press release, Presiding Judge Kirk Nakamura stated, “The fact that we held 100 jury trials since the partial reopening of the court in May is a testament to the commitment of our citizens to the Constitution and our shared values. Jurors are an integral part of our justice system; they guarantee the right to a trial where all can be heard and judged by their peers.  We could not have provided access to justice through jury trials during this pandemic if not for the great response of our citizens.”

Update on New Jersey Jury Selection Challenge

On October 16, the Jur-E Bulletin reported lawyers for defendant Wildemar Dagcil filed an emergency appeal during jury selection claiming that many of the 800 summoned citizens were mysteriously eliminated from the jury pool before the day of trial resulting in an unrepresentative venire.  Forbes magazine now reports the New Jersey State Bar Association filed an Amicus Curiae to the appellate court expressing concern about another aspect of the jury selection system: the jury management office’s unfettered discretion to grant or deny juror requests to excuse them from or defer service and the jury office’s failure to collect and maintain records that “could have revealed whether the jurors who were excused consisted disproportionately of certain classes, and thus unfairly skewed the available jury pool towards an unrepresentative sample of the public.”  Since then, the appellate panel rejected the appeal, and the trial has resumed.