Murder Conviction Tossed Out Because Judge Substituted an Alternate Juror Without Proper Inquiries

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Murder Conviction Tossed Out Because Judge Substituted an Alternate Juror Without Proper Inquiries

On the ninth day of trial in People v. Lang, the court substituted an alternate juror for a sitting juror who failed to appear. An appellate panel reversed eventual guilty verdicts on the grounds that the trial court did not conduct “a reasonably thorough inquiry” into the sitting juror's unavailability or place on the record facts supporting a finding that the juror was unavailable for service.

Pandemic Prompts Indiana to Make an Exception to Its Prohibiting Cameras in the Courtroom

As jury trials resume this month in Indiana, the tension between upholding the requirement of public trials and public safety comes into focus.  Grant County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey D. Todd explains, “Normally you can’t have cameras in the courtroom, but the Indiana Supreme Court is making an exception for the COVID-19 pandemic and we’ll have a camera and a microphone streaming the proceedings to the Grant County Council chambers. So, spectators will actually watch the trial from across the street.”

The New Normal in Voir Dire Questioning, “Are You Willing to Serve?”

Veteran trial consultant Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm suggests a line of questioning that befits the current pandemic environment.  For example:

  • In the current state of the pandemic, how comfortable or uncomfortable are you with being here in a courtroom with others?
  • How comfortable or uncomfortable are you with the court’s precautions to minimize the chances for spreading the virus?
  • Did you debate whether you would respond in-person to your jury summons, or not?

Large 19th-Century Courthouse Resurrected to Host Pandemic-Era Jury Trials

The Stutsman County Courthouse in central North Dakota was built in 1883 and later transferred to the State Historical Society for civic education purposes. In response to the current need for large spaces for jury trials, it will soon be used for jury trials.  The Dickinson Press helps our readers step back into by-gone era with a wonderful photo of the courtroom.

Trial Judge Fails to Explain Reasoning at Step 3 of Batson Analysis — Nevada Supreme Court Reverses a Conviction

In an attempted-murder case against Jemar Matthews, the prosecutor struck a prospective juror who was an African American because her answers to voir dire questions about her ability to be fair were “very tenuous.”  After hearing arguments from the lawyers at the final stage of the Batson three-part test, the court simply denied the defendant’s Batson challenge without explanation.  The state high court ruled, “A clear record of the district court’s determinations and reasoning is particularly important when the explanation for the peremptory challenge depends on the venire member’s demeanor, as the district court is uniquely positioned to observe that demeanor. While this court is primed to afford the district court’s decision great deference, we cannot do so if the district court does not engage in the sensitive inquiry required under Batson and explain its conclusions. That is the case here.”

In Memoriam – Steve Susman

Earlier this week a giant advocate for civil jury trials passed away.  Steve Susman was founder of the boutique litigation firm Susman Godfrey and of NYU Law School’s Civil Jury Project. The Houston Chronicle provides us with sketch of his notable professional life.