Legal Community Assesses Impact of Unanimous Jury Verdict Requirement in Ramos v. Louisiana
In the aftermath of SCOTUS’s groundbreaking Ramos decision outlawing non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases, legal academy members and veteran court watchers are now posing important questions about how the new caselaw might affect defendants who have exhausted their appeals. The task of fathoming the effect of the new doctrine on older cases is complicated by the difficulty of determining whether a conviction was the result of a non-unanimous verdict. If a jury was not polled at the time the verdict was announced in a courtroom, it may be impossible to discern verdict votes. Beyond this legal issue, will the effect of the pandemic on prison populations have an influence upon policymakers in Louisiana and Oregon (the only jurisdictions affected by the decision)?
How Will the Pandemic Affect Juror Attitudes When the New Normal Sets In?
Litigation consultant Ross P. Laguzza, PhD, poses some thoughtful theories about how the uncertainties generated by the coronavirus might affect juror decision making when jury trials resume.
Trial Judge in Murder Trial Asks Parties to Avoid Questions About Prospective Jurors’ Religious Beliefs. Reversible Error?
A Georgia jury found Darius Morris guilty of murder. On appeal, Morris raised several claims of error, including the trial judge’s conduct at the voir dire stage. Namely, just before voir dire got underway, the trial court had the following discussion with the attorneys:
COURT: For gosh sakes, please don’t ask the religion question, anybody. Please don’t do that. If you ask the religion question, we’ll lose a bunch. If they have religious problems, they will tell us they have problems, okay, making a decision. So, I don’t—even though it’s on that list, I don’t ask it, okay?
PROSECUTOR: So, you don’t want us to ask that either?
COURT: I do not want you to ask it. It’s nothing but a devil’s playground. With all due respect to the religion question, I’ll rephrase that and say it’s God’s playground. Then everybody says, oh, I can’t do this. Oh, and so then we have to do this. We have to voir dire them extensively and find out that they really can make a decision because they make major decisions every day affecting everybody’s life. You know, the usual routine. If they have a religious problem, if they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses or they don’t want to make a decision about somebody’s life they will tell us that. That’s my experience. So, stay away, please. Now, I can’t order you to stay away, but I’m asking you to stay away.
The Georgia Supreme Court rejected defendant’s argument because his lawyer did not object to the judge’s statements when they were made.
Idaho Supreme Court Provides a Textbook Lesson in Analyzing Batson Challenges
In State v. Ish, defendant was convicted of manslaughter. During voir dire, he challenged the prosecutor’s use of his twelve peremptory strikes to eliminate the only six minority jurors in the venire panel. The trial judge recessed jury selection and ordered the parties to fully brief their positions on defendant’s Batson challenges. The judge thereafter issued a written opinion denying Mr. Ish’s motions. Not only were the trial judge’s actions a model of deliberative care, but the Idaho Supreme Court’s opinion reversing the conviction provides readers with both a lesson in Batson analysis plus instruction for the treatment of future Batson challenges. The court concluded its parsing of the trial record with this summary:
- A timely Batson challenge occurs before the jury is sworn and before the remainder of the venire is dismissed.
- Statistical evidence is not dipositive evidence of discriminatory intent but may be strong evidence on which to infer discriminatory intent and to establish a prima facie case.
- A trial court is not required to conduct a side-by-side comparative analysis if such comparison is not argued by the challenging party.
- A comparative juror analysis requires focusing on the proffered reason for the exclusion of the minority juror to determine pretext. Jurors offered for comparison should be closely analogous to that juror, though they need not be identical.
- A trial court may look to other struck witnesses to determine if the prosecutor’s proffered explanation is pretextual, but this analysis should carry less weight than a traditional comparative juror analysis.
- A trial court should make a finding on whether each of the prosecutor’s proffered explanations appears pretextual.
- If a prosecutor’s proffered explanation relies on a juror’s demeanor, a trial court should make specific factual findings regarding that juror’s demeanor or else an appellate court is unable to credit that reason on appeal.
And While We’re Waiting for Jury Trials to Resume . . .
The NCSC Center for Jury Studies is studying risk factors associated with juror Internet and social media use. One part of the project is a survey of judges and trial lawyers to learn about their opinions about and professional experience with juror misconduct. The survey link is here. We encourage Jur-E Bulletin readers to take the survey and share its weblink with judges and lawyers.