Are you ready for COVID-19 in your jury pool?

final-jur-e headline

Are you ready for COVID-19 in your jury pool?

In 2009, during the H5N1 avian flu pandemic, the Center for Jury Studies published a Jury News column with advice for managing jury operations during a pandemic.  We dusted it off last week and concluded that its advice is still valid.  The only newer advice is to fully leverage the benefits of improved communications technologies.  Many of your jury management systems now collect cell phone numbers and email addresses when jurors respond the summons.  Use those to supplement telephone call-in messages and court websites to send alerts and to publicize any new court policies enacted to support state and local health and safety measures. NCSC has other recommendations for COOP planning.  Stay well, stay calm, and wash your hands often!

26 Stressful Hours in the Jury Deliberation Room

With the cooperation of three jurors in the Harvey Weinstein case, The New York Times provides us a peek into the final deliberations. For example, one juror described their stress this way, “Everybody got a couple minutes to unpack the last five weeks for everyone else.  There were different opinions. We were not unanimous anywhere on the first day.”  With respect to the demands made by the evidence, one said, “You are analyzing your own morality as viewed by the law in a room of 11 strangers. It is a very stressful dynamic.”

Ireland Struggles with Jury Trial Reforms

In 2013 Ireland’s Law Reform Commission published its Report on Jury Service, recommending numerous changes to law and procedure.  With nothing having been done on any recommendation, a working group that includes judges is now pushing for actual reforms.

Lawyer-Juror’s Deceptive Statements During Jury Selection Cause Reversal of Guilty Murder Verdict

After an Indiana jury convicted Clinton Loehrlein of murdering his wife and attempted murder of his daughters, the defense discovered that one of the jurors (an experienced member of the bar) did not honestly answer a voir dire question about whether she or members of her family have ever been charged with or been the victim of a crime.  Indeed, post-trial inquiry showed that the juror was charged with assault on her ex-husband.  Loehrlein’s convictions were thrown out by an appellate panel after it found the attorney’s untruthful answers deprived Loehrlein of ability to delve into the attorney’s prior experience with domestic violence and that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion for a new trial.

Judge’s Failure to Strike Juror with Limited English Capacity = Reversible Error

A Pennsylvania appellate panel has overturned the robbery and conspiracy convictions of Frank Gesualso on the grounds that the trial judge improperly denied a defense motion to strike for cause a prospective juror who demonstrated a faulty understanding of English and limited ability to respond to a voir dire questionnaire.   The three-judge court opined, “The trial court’s focus on the fact that the juror ‘believed she could be fair and impartial’ is not sufficient to overcome the juror’s disqualification based on her language impediment. Thus, the [trial] court erred by not striking Juror #2 for cause. That error prejudiced appellant because he was forced to use a peremptory challenge to strike Juror #2, and he exhausted his remaining peremptory challenges.”

Veteran Prosecutor Reflects on Roger Stone Case and the Dignity of Jurors

Elie Honig was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York for eight-plus years and the director of the criminal justice division of the New Jersey Attorney General’s office for more than five years.  He now writes in CafĂ© (a media outlet founded by Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York) about how, as a trial lawyer, he was respectful (“almost reverential”) toward jurors.  For example, he says, “I was taught never to eat or drink anything, ever, in front of the jury. The jurors didn’t have food or drinks in the jury box, so you didn’t want to throw back a frosty Snapple in front of them while sitting at counsel’s table.”  Within that context, he finds President Trump’s attacks on members of the Roger Stone jury “abhorrent.”  He states, “Trump’s comments undermine the independence of the Justice Department and the judiciary, and they shake public confidence in our institutions.  But at least there’s an argument—I don’t agree, but it’s within the realm of reason—that judges and prosecutors choose to go into public life and, as such, are fair game.  But jurors are different.  Jurors are beyond the pale. As [trial judge Amy Berman Jackson] noted, 'While judges may have volunteered for their positions, jurors are not volunteers. They are deserving of the public’s respect, and they deserve to have their privacy respected.'”