Juror Misconduct Threatens Rights of Criminal Defendants and Integrity of the System

Our criminal and civil justice system relies upon the integrity and ethics of our jurors. We are unique in that we have a jury system to determine the outcome of those arrested for crime in Maryland and beyond, but with that privilege also comes the obligation of jurors to perform their duties faithfully and honorably.

Many people don’t pay much attention to news surrounding juror misconduct. But if you’re on trial for a crime, and you have a lawyer that understands the jury system, you surely will start to care a whole lot more about jurors playing by the rules.

Cases Where Jurors Have Ignored Instructions

Recent news around the country has highlighted that in fact, jurors sometimes don’t always pay attention to their instructions.

In any case with a jury, criminal or civil, a judge will provide instructions to jurors. These instructions are somewhat uniform in Maryland and nationwide. The crux of the instructions are that jurors must insulate and isolate themselves from any outside news of the case they are hearing. The idea is to prevent jurors from forming opinions from outside sources, like TV, magazines, or websites. Their opinion should only be formed by what they are hearing (or not hearing) at trial.

The very notorious trial of Jodi Arias has highlighted these problems. Recently a juror was kicked off the Arias jury panel, for openly asking a reporter whether she was Nancy Grace, the celebrity legal opinion commentator on Cable TV.

Obviously, any juror looking to get on TV, is more interested in their own celebrity than in adjudicating the facts, and would not be isolating themselves from the media.

A juror in a Palm Beach Florida murder trial was recently questioned over surfing the internet on his laptop. This was after the previous trial for the same alleged crime was thrown out after juror misconduct, when a juror failed to disclose his ex-wife’s criminal history, and for having a “vodka-drinking test” at his home while deliberations were going on.

Mistrials May Result From Misconduct

Problems with jurors can lead to mistrials. Mistrials are “non-trials” where the judge declares the entire trial thrown out, and the entire matter must be tried, from the start, all over again. This results in increased cost, expense and stress for a criminal defendant.

It can also prejudice a criminal defendant, as many witnesses for the state will be prepared for the questions asked of them at the second trial, thus eliminating the element of surprise that the defense attorney may have otherwise had.

To some extent, we must have some sympathy for jurors in extended trials. Their lives are often uprooted, contact with their family limited, and they may even be forced to live in a hotel with security standing by at all times. They will often listen to testimony they may not understand, in trials that are hardly as exciting as what is portrayed on TV.

Still, a good defense attorney must be aware of the need to ensure that a jury is following its obligations. There are lives at stake, and our system depends on their faithful compliance with their instructions.

If you are facing a trial for an arrest or criminal charge, you want attorneys that understand the entire process, including delicate juror issues. The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience protecting the rights of criminal defendants. If you or someone you know was charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.