Update on Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Jury Trials

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Update on Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Jury Trials

Thanks to all of you who contacted the Center for Jury Studies with updated information about your COOP planning for jury operations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  As of Thursday, March 12, only a few jurisdictions have suspended jury trials entirely.  The ones of which we are currently aware include: Connecticut (civil trials only); New Hampshire; New Mexico (civil trials only); Harris County, Texas; Dallas County, Texas (civil trials only); Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Cleveland Municipal Court, Ohio; US District Court, Western District of Washington; U.S. District Court, Massachusetts; Santa Barbara County, California; and Iona and Troy County District Courts, Michigan.  Other courts have taken a variety of steps to reduce the risk of contagion, including liberal deferral policies; issuing alerts on court websites and on call-in telephone messages that individuals who show any flu-like symptoms or who have been told by a healthcare provider or employer to self-quarantine not to report; calling fewer jurors, implementing staggered reporting schedules, and isolating jurors in smaller groups; stepped up cleaning in the jury assembly room and in jury deliberation rooms; and equipping the jury assembly room with hand sanitizer and tissues.  Many of you noted that because the situation is changing rapidly, court leadership is monitoring state and local public health advisories closely and is prepared to take further action as needed.  Please continue to keep us apprised of your status.  Keep calm, keep washing your hands, and keep a sense of humor!

Jury Selection Software Screens for Ethnicity, Political Views, and Occupation – A Problem There?

The business journal Karma features a story about Momus Analyticswhose algorithms are designed to help lawyers weed out problematic jurors.  But some lawyers and trial consultants claim the AI tool will promote racial bias rather than fix it.

How Many Times Can a Prosecutor Submit the Same Case to a Grand Jury?

The New Jersey Supreme Court faced this question in State v. Shaw. On March 4 it held:

If grand juries decline to indict on two prior occasions, the State must obtain advance approval from the Assignment Judge before it can submit the same case to a third grand jury. To decide whether to permit a third presentation, Assignment Judges should consider whether the State has new or additional evidence to present; the strength of the State's evidence; and whether there has been any prosecutorial misconduct in the prior presentations.

2nd Circuit Criticizes Trial Judge for Allowing Defense to Argue Jury Nullification

On the eve of the Yehudi Manzano’s trial involving a federal child pornography charge, the trial judge issued an order permitting the defense to argue jury nullification to the jury.  The prosecutors promptly filed a mandamus petition in the 2nd Circuit to preclude nullification arguments.  The trial judge suspended the trial to await the mandamus ruling.  He also filed an amicus brief in support of his granting the defense motion.  In a 2-to-1 ruling, the majority stated, “We emphatically reject the rule, advanced by Judge Underhill as amicus, that district courts are free to permit jury nullification arguments whenever they feel justice so requires—in other words, in any case in which the court strongly disagrees with the government's charging decisions and the attendant sentencing consequences. As a practical matter, there is no meaningful difference between a court's knowing failure to remove a juror intent on nullification, a court's instruction to the jury that encourages nullification, and a court's ruling that affirmatively permits counsel to argue nullification. In each of these situations, the conduct in question subverts the jury's solemn duty to “take the law from the court and apply that law to the facts of the case as they find them to be from the evidence.”

Michigan Supreme Court Hears Appeal from a Jury-Tampering Conviction Based on Jury-Nullification Pamphleteering

Earlier this week, Keith Eric Woods’ defense attorney urged the high court to reverse his conviction for jury tampering based on his pamphleteering on the steps of the Mecosta County courthouse.  The defense claims there was no tampering because there were no jurors in existence at the time of the pamphleteering.  Instead, Woods claims he was exercising his free-speech rights.  In response, the state government argued that Woods was pamphleteering with a specific case in mind—the prosecution of a local man charged with draining a wetland.  Stay tuned for more jurisprudence on jury nullification and jury tampering.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Signs Legislation to Reform Jury Selection Procedures

House Bill 100 is now a law. Among several new voir dire procedures, it provides that “the court and counsel for either party may inform any such person or juror as to the potential range of punishment to ascertain if the person or juror can sit impartially in the sentencing phase of the case.”

NCSC Seeks Assistance in Finding Models for Promoting Jury Service

Our regular subscribers know that, over the years, the Jur-E Bulletin has featured innovative public outreach programs about jury service, as well as numerous instances where former jurors, jurists, and others have shared perspectives on the virtues of trial by jury. NCSC’s Center for Jury Studies would like to create a gallery of resources (e.g., posters, scripts for public service announcements or op-ed articles, presentations to local community groups, etc.), and an archive of stories that can be used by state courts to promote citizen participation in jury service. Please send your contributions to that effort to the editor, Gregory Mize.