Jur-E Bulletin: February 2, 2018


Show-Me Juror

The Missourian reported on February 28, 2018 that Boone County, MO began using “Show-Me Juror.”  The new system is an e-Juror portal that allows jurors to fill questionnaires, update their information or request an excusal online.  They can also opt to receive information from the court via email or text. The online system was piloted in St. Louis and Jackson County last year. It will also be implemented into Callaway County, MO in April.

Searching for Volunteer Jurors

The Winston Salem Journal reported on February 27, 2018 that due to a glitch in Forsyth County, NC, jury summonses to 1,700 people failed to get mailed. Not surprisingly, no one showed up for jury service. Forsyth County court officials reached out to a local TV station and they broadcast a request for volunteer jurors. That effort yielded 19 people. Judge Stuart Albright ordered deputies with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to search the county for more volunteers. At 2 p.m., they still were unable to locate any. As a result, the original 19 volunteers were released without going through the jury selection process.   

Questions from a Reader 

A regular reader of the Jur-E Bulletin would greatly appreciate getting responses from other readers to the two below. Please send responses to Greg Hurley at ghurley@ncsc.org and they will be forwarded.

1.  Juror Badges/Identification.  

Have any jurisdictions chosen to stop using juror badges or comparable external indicia (including stickers, lanyards, etc.) to identify jurors in and around the courthouse? This inquiry goes both to jurisdictions that have transitioned to novel types of identification – like printed bracelets – as well as anywhere that has decided to stop making jurors identifiable on sight. Any information regarding the policy decision to stop identifying jurors would be especially appreciated.

2.  Turnstiles.  

Do any jurisdictions use mandatory turnstiles to track jurors’ movements in, around, and/or outside of the courthouse? If so, please share your experiences with this practice and also include in the response the volume of jurors reporting to the courthouse.

One Position on the Change to the “No Impeachment Rule”

The “no impeachment rule” of jury verdicts has been around for a long time. It prevents jurors from testifying about things that happen in the deliberations room that would challenge the validity of the verdict they reached. The rule promotes the finality of verdicts, allows jurors to be fully candid when deliberating and reduces the burden of post-trial litigation. However, some events that occur in the deliberations room are so bad that they bring into question whether fundamental fairness was afforded in specific cases. This was the framework for the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado. Most and perhaps all states have some version of this rule but some had crafted their own exceptions to it prior to Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado. Taurus Myhad of the University of Alabama wrote an article titled Will the Jury System Survive the Peña-Rodriguez Exception to Rule 606(B)?: The Court's Response to Racial Discrimination by a Juror Leaves the Future of the American Jury Trial System in Jeopardy. It will be published in the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, Vol. 23, No. 2, 2018. The article takes a strong position which some readers may not agree with but it is well written and worth reading. The abstract to the article states:

The enforcement of no-impeachment rules has been a long-standing tradition in the United States preventing jurors from offering testimony as to impeach their own verdict. In March 2017, the Supreme Court changed course from centuries of jurisprudence and superseded the Federal Rules of Evidence with a new exception to Rule 606(b) in the Court’s decision in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado. The Court’s effort to “root out” racial bias in the justice system resulted in the debunking of the legislative authority granted to the Congress while creating an exception that does little, if anything, toward eliminating racial bias during jury deliberations. In fact, the new exception leaves more questions than answers. No verdict is safe from the potential of seemingly endless post-verdict investigations and litigation seeking juror testimony to challenge the validity of the verdict. Even more, the jury room may no longer be a place for the free discussion and open debate by ordinary persons which highlight the principles that have defined the American jury trial system for centuries.

United States v. Jesse Huerra

The United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit issued an opinion in United States v. Jesse Huerra on February 27, 2018. Mr. Huerra was tried by a jury and ultimately convicted of distributing methamphetamine, using firearms to further a drug-trafficking crime, and possessing firearms as a convicted felon. During jury selection, a prospective juror named Jemal Floyd disclosed in open court that he was a parole officer who was currently supervising Huerra. The opinion then states the following occurred:

The district court immediately excused Floyd. Prompted by defense counsel's follow-up questions, two other panel members expressed doubt about their ability to remain impartial in light of Floyd's statement. The district court then re-explained to the venire the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof and re-emphasized the jury's proper role in the case, following which a third panel member asserted that he too could be neither fair nor impartial. Defense counsel moved to strike the panel, arguing that Floyd's “outburst” had “tainted” the venire. The district court overruled the objection but ultimately excused the three panel members who questioned their ability to be impartial.

Huerra filed a multi issue appeal and the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit  and the appeals court affirmed on all grounds. They indicated that the district courts actions allowed people who may have harbored a bias based on Mr. Huerra’s parole status to freely come forward. In fact, three prospective jurors did indicate that the information would affect their impartiality and they were released. These measures were adequate to ensure Mr. Huerra got a fair trial.

Negative Media Coverage

CBS 47 reported on February 22, 2018 that a Jacksonville, FL man with the intellectual capacity of a six-year-old was summoned to the Duval County Courthouse. His mother, Dina Mason claims she faxed the court a letter from the man’s physician indicating that he isn’t capable of making decisions. However, a week later she received a letter from a judge stating that the request for an excusal was denied. She further stated that “her son panics when he leaves home and becomes frightened while being transferred from his wheelchair to the car.”  

Juror Views and Biases are Reflected in Verdicts

Dominic Willmott of the University of Hudderfield in the United Kingdom wrote a doctoral thesis titled, An Examination of the Relationship between Juror Attitudes, Psychological Constructs, and Verdict Decisions within Rape Trials. The complete paper is embargoed until September 2018. However, the author uses mock jurors to prove a point that most U.S. judges and litigators take for granted. That is that “juror decisions are directly related with the attitudes and psychological constructs jurors bring to trial.” He suggests that the system in the U.K. may need to be changed to weed out some biased jurors. Peremptory challenges were abolished by the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 but perhaps they need to reconsider this position? The abstract to the dissertation states:

For many, the English criminal justice system is considered to be among the best in the world. An important feature of the system’s success is thought to be the jury trial whereby in the most serious of cases, use of ordinary citizens to determine guilt is thought to make for fairer verdict outcomes. Yet despite being a more democratic process, questionable verdicts and low conviction rates for crimes such as rape have led many to question how impartial lay jurors are likely to be and to what extent preconceived biases may in fact be influencing verdict decisions. The overarching aim of the current thesis was thereby to examine the relationship between personal characteristics and juror decisions. Specifically, the role of psychopathic personality traits, rape attitudes, and juror demographics upon individual decision formation were examined. Another aim was to develop and validate a self-report measure of individual juror decision making, directly integrating theoretical features of the dominant model of jury decision making into an empirically testable scale. Tested separately between two independent samples within Experiment one, an opportunity sample of 324 university students comprised within 27 separate jury panels observed a videotaped mock rape trial before making individual and collective decisions. Within Experiment two, a systematic randomly selected sample of 100 community participants comprised within nine separate jury panels observed a live rape trial re-enactment before making individual and collective decisions. All participants completed demographic, attitudinal, and psychological self-report measures before the onset of the trial including; the Psychopathic Personality Trait Scale (PPTS), Acceptance of Modern Myths about Sexual Aggression (AMMSA), and the Juror Decision Scale (JDS). Results displayed evidence of a discernible relationship between juror’s psycho-social make-up and the verdict decisions made during trial. Latent profile analyses revealed psychopathic personality traits were significantly associated with verdict preferences in the community sample and regression analyses displayed elevated rape attitude scores were consistent predictors of Not Guilty verdict decisions across both samples, pre- and post-deliberation. Confirmatory factorial techniques displayed a bifactor model with three meaningful factors while controlling for the general factor was the best representation of the JDS data, with the three subscales evidencing differential predictive validity with external variables. Finally, path analyses revealed the structure of the relationship between all variables and verdict decisions, providing further evidence for the role of juror characteristics. These findings strongly support the assertion that within rape trials, juror decisions are directly related with the attitudes and psychological constructs jurors bring to trial. Evidence that a juror’s psycho-social make-up affects their interpretation of the evidence and ultimately predisposes them towards particular verdict decisions, gives rise to the possibility of needing to screen biased individuals out the jury trial process in the future. Whether change occurs or not to such historical English jury procedures, what can no longer be simply dismissed, is the role of individual juror bias upon trial outcomes within rape. 

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March 2, 2018

Jur-E Bulletin is a publication of the Center for Jury Studies.

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