New York DA Vacates Convictions After Trial Prosecutor’s Notes Show Shameful Misconduct

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New York DA Vacates Convictions After Trial Prosecutor’s Notes Show Shameful Misconduct

The New York Jewish daily newspaper Hamodia reports that Bryce Benjet, the Queens County conviction-integrity chief, found a fellow prosecutor’s notes to be a cheat sheet of prejudices, favoring “established whites” as jurors and trying to exclude a swath of other people—Hispanics, Jews, some blacks based on their neighborhoods, Italian Americans if a defendant shared that background, and “mother type” or “grandmotherly” women. The files indicate the trial prosecutor indeed consulted the notes to nix prospective jurors in a pair of murder cases.

Florida Grand Jury Lambastes Duval County Law Enforcement

The Florida state supreme court authorized publication of a grand jury report studying school safety issues that lambasted the Duval County School Police for "outright fraud" and underreporting incident and crime numbers to make a better impression.  The report demonstrates that grand juries can be called upon in some states to investigate government misconduct.

“Bad Vibe,” “He Wasn’t All That Warm and Fussy (sic) to Me” Not Legitimate Reasons for Peremptory Strikes

That is what an Illinois appellate court determined in reviewing a Batson challenge involving a prosecutor who struck the only two black jurors in a felony drug case.  The appellate panel noted there was nothing in one prospective juror's "responses to suggest that he would not be a fair and impartial juror in defendant’s case."

Ohio Supreme Court Disqualifies Trial Judge for Not Keeping Courtroom Safe During Pandemic

In response to formal motions from trial counsel, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor signed a court order disqualifying Judge Mark Fleegle from presiding over two criminal jury trials scheduled to begin this month.  The movant alleged Judge Fleegle failed to implement precautions to protect against the spread of the coronavirus in his courtroom. For example, the attorney alleged Judge Fleegle conducts all hearings in person rather than by remote technology and that he does not mandate facial coverings in violation of a statewide mask order and recommendations from the supreme court.  After hearing from all sides, the state high court disqualified Fleegle from upcoming criminal cases and stated this general rule, “If a judge cannot prove that he or she has taken steps to protect the safety of individuals in the courtroom, the judge may be disqualified, especially if the judge cannot also articulate the necessity of proceeding with jury trials during a dangerous stage of a pandemic.”

What Are the Limits of Hypothetical Questions in Capital Case Voir Dire?

During voir dire in Hojan v. State of Florida, defense counsel sought permission to pose the following hypothetical question to a prospective juror, “A guy kills somebody. Not self-defense. Not heat of passion. Not duress. Meant to do it. Premeditated. Killed an innocent victim. What are your feelings about the death penalty, only appropriate penalty for a guilty murderer of that innocent victim?”  The trial judge sustained the prosecutor’s objection to the hypothetical.  After defendant was convicted and sentenced to death, he appealed to the state supreme court, claiming several reversible errors occurred during voir dire. The supreme court found the trial court’s prohibition of the hypothetical question was harmless because defense counsel was able to ask other probing questions to discern prospective juror bias against the death penalty and no evidence of juror bias surfaced during the entire jury selection portion of the trial.

Resources for Managing Pandemic-Era Jury Trials

To help state courts effectively manage pandemic-era jury trials, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators have commissioned NCSC to publish a variety of practical resources.  The most recent products became available on the NCSC website this week.  First, there is an analysis of constitutional issues that can arise when a court system conducts virtual or hybrid jury trials Second, readers can find a variety of survey instruments to communicate with prospective and former jurors about jury duty during COVID-19. The model instruments cover these topics: hardship requests, in-person juror exit questionnaires, remote jury selection exit questionnaires, a comprehensive public opinion survey, and a simplified public opinion survey.