News from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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News from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Because of a drop in the number of citizens showing up for jury duty in these challenging times, trial judges asked the state supreme court for permission to limit or eliminate peremptories.

First North Carolina Jury Trial Since March Aborted Because Jurors Contract COVID-19

Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Lisa Bell this week declared a mistrial in a heroin-trafficking trial that began on November 16.  After jury deliberations were halted for a week due to a juror contracting the virus, a second juror who traveled during the Thanksgiving holiday reported coronavirus symptoms.  That was the last straw for Judge Bell.   She explained, “The delays have reached the point where I find myself not only attempting to protect the health and safety of the jurors but also the rights of the state and defendants to a fair trial.  When the delays between the close of the evidence and the deliberation are of this length, it calls the trial's fairness into question."  A GV Wire report shows that this North Carolina case joins a longer list of jury trial cancellations around the country.  For example, efforts to resume jury trials in Norfolk, Virginia are stalled because 9 out of 10 summoned jurors are not showing up for jury service.

California Supreme Court Orders Civil Jury Trial to Go Forward During Pandemic

The San Bernardino Sun reports that the California Supreme Court has denied an emergency request from attorneys for the California State University Board of Trustees to halt the largest civil trial in San Bernardino County since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic amid fears it could become a virus super-spreader event.

An Invitation to Jury Nullification?

John Pierce, a California lawyer not licensed in Wisconsin, is seeking court permission to represent Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old defendant accused of murdering two people during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  The Minnesota Star Tribune reports that Pierce has promoted information that would not be admitted as evidence at trial, such as calling Rittenhouse "God fearing" and "service-oriented."  Prosecutors contend that is irrelevant and encourages jury nullification.

What Are the Limits of Access to Pretrial Juror Questionnaires?

In Commonwealth v. Derrick Scott, defendant was convicted of rape.  Thereafter, he appealed from an order by a single justice on the Appeals Court of Massachusetts that denied his post-conviction motion to compel the clerk of the Superior Court to provide him with access to juror questionnaires. He sought the questionnaires to bolster claims that a juror wrongfully withheld relevant information during voir dire.  The appellate panel, after recognizing questionnaires can provide vital information for post-conviction litigation, denied the appeal.  In doing so, the court carefully set forth criteria for assessing the propriety of releasing jury selection questionnaires.