HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” Devotes an Episode to Jury Selection

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HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” Devotes an Episode to Jury Selection

In a rapid-fire comedic way, John Oliver educates viewers about the dynamics and demerits of how voir dire is often conducted in the USA.  There are lots of things to laugh and cry about in the program.  And there may be a sequel to this serious fun.  A news anchor at Court TV has taken issue with the accuracy of some of Oliver’s criticisms of jury selection and invited him to a Court TV to discuss jury selection.

The Landmark Case Duncan v. Louisiana Was Largely Triggered by Vicious Segregationist Leander Perez

Many readers are familiar with Duncan v. Louisiana, the 1968 Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed the right to a jury trial for any and all serious crimes.  In his new book Deep Delta Justice (reviewed in the Daily Beast)author Matthew Van Meter explores the cultural environment from which the case arose.  He asserts that the ruthless actions political boss Leander Perez and the brave lawyering of Richard Sobol led to the Duncan doctrine.  For example, Perez built a prison camp for “racial agitators” and was heavily involved in moving segregationist legislation through the state legislature and in voter suppression efforts. He managed to establish segregated “academies” in his parish with tuition funded by public money.  He was so successful in his voting campaigns that from 1955 to 1960, only five African Americans registered to vote in the parish.  In this environment, 19-year-old African American Gary Duncan touched a 14-year-old white boy to break up a school yard dispute.  Duncan was then charged with “cruelty to juveniles.”   Knowing the ultimate audience would be SCOTUS, Sobol agreed to defend Duncan’s denied right to a jury trial.  His eventual high court victory still underpins 6th Amendment jurisprudence.

For Those Who Regret Not Being Summoned During Pandemic—Brits Produce “Jury Duty,” an Online Jury Game

Exit Productions in the U.K. offers an opportunity to act like a juror in an arson case.  Using the Zoom format, you can team up with other “jurors” to sift through evidence and even question the defendant.  Put aside your board games while sheltering in place and start being a juror here.

Convicted Midshipman Claims Naval Academy Jury Was Biased

The Baltimore Sun reports on the case of Nixon Keago, a black defendant convicted by an all-white jury of sexual assault and imprisoned for 25 years.  The story provides insight into the dynamics of jury selection at the service academy.

Asbestos Liability Trial Must Go Forward Despite Claims Jurors Will Be Distracted with Home Life

Defense counsel for companies accused of wrongfully exposing plaintiffs to asbestos have moved for delay of a virtual trial until it is safe to have an in-person trial.  In addition to citing health dangers to all trial participants, the defense pointed to occurrences in a previous all-remote trial where jurors were seen working out, cooking, and doing childcare during court proceedings.  Attorney Lindsay Weiss asserted that online trials are “not a fair process” if jurors are not attentive.  San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn denied the motion and is working with the parties to come up with the optimum trial logistics.

Will Threatened Changes at U.S. Postal Service Affect Jury Summoning?

The postmaster general this week announced the scheduling of major changes in USPS operations after the general elections in November 2020.  The changes may have serious implications for jury operations.  Although courts have begun to mail jury summonses in anticipation of resuming jury trials in many states, jury managers are uncertain how COVID-19 may affect jury yield.  Prospective jurors who are fearful about their health and safety may fail to respond to the jury summons or fail to appear for service.  Changes in postal service operations may further affect jury yield if jury summonses are not delivered in a timely manner.  Watch the NCSC Tiny Chat for a discussion about other implications for courts, especially notifications for court hearings and the tolling of deadlines.

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Jur-E Bulletin Editor: Judge Gregory Mize (Ret.)

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