Maryland Court Refashions Large Jury Assembly Room into a Pandemic-Safe Courtroom

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Maryland Court Refashions Large Jury Assembly Room into a Pandemic-Safe Courtroom

The Jur-E Bulletin previously reported jury trials resumed in Maryland this week.  The Washington Post has now published an instructive diagram of an expansive courtroom that used to be the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s jury assembly room.

Canadian Supreme Court Finds Abolition of Peremptory Strikes to Be Constitutional

Concerned about the consistent lack of native peoples on juries, the Canadian Parliament abolished peremptory challenges in September 2019 to make juries more representative.  Thereafter a defendant challenged the retroactive application of the abolition.  Earlier this week, the High Court determined the retroactive application of the new jury selection policy is lawful.

Governor Approves Bill to Revamp Procedures to Enforce the Batson Doctrine

On September 30, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a series of criminal justice reform bills.  One would set forth new procedures to enforce the Batson doctrine in criminal cases.  Assembly Bill 3070 provides in relevant part: “The court shall evaluate the reasons given to justify the peremptory challenge in light of the totality of the circumstances. The court shall consider only the reasons actually given and shall not speculate on, or assume the existence of, other possible justifications for the use of the peremptory challenge. If the court determines there is a substantial likelihood that an objectively reasonable person would view race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or religious affiliation, or perceived membership in any of those groups, as a factor in the use of the peremptory challenge, then the objection shall be sustained. The court need not find purposeful discrimination to sustain the objection. The court shall explain the reasons for its ruling on the record. A motion brought under this section shall also be deemed a sufficient presentation of claims asserting the discriminatory exclusion of jurors in violation of the United States and California Constitutions.”

If an Alternate Juror Improperly Participates in a Final Verdict, Is That Reversible Error?

In Lester v. State, the defendant was convicted of murder.  After the verdict was announced but before the jurors were discharged, the court and parties learned that an alternate juror was present in the jury room during deliberations.  The trial judge promptly interviewed all jurors individually to learn what happened.  Five jurors recalled the alternate did make comments or asked questions during deliberations.  The foreperson and another juror told the trial court that the foreperson informed the alternate that he could not vote, and the other 10 jurors affirmed that the alternate did not vote. All 12 jurors stated the alternate juror's presence did not influence their verdicts.   On appeal the Georgia Supreme Court found that the alternate’s presence violated OCGA ยง 15-12-171, resulting in a presumption of harm that the State must overcome.  Ultimately, the court found the State met its burden of showing that no juror was influenced by an alternate juror's presence.

Trial Consultant Asserts Virtual Jury Trials as Good as In-person Trials

The Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (subscription) published an opinion piece by Taylor Lyden.  He found, with thousands of mock trials to draw from, there are several reasons why “there is no substantive difference between virtual and in-person deliberations for jury research.”  In his words, “Jurors ‘get to the point’ more quickly online because they are less inhibited. Online videoconferencing has a way of leveling the playing field for jurors. Each juror deliberates from the comfort of their own home (whatever that environment may be), and each is provided with the same amount of virtual real estate on the other jurors' screens. . . .   Additionally, through years of both online and in-person jury research, we have found that, psychologically, there is a feeling of protection afforded by a computer screen for jurors, and this protection allows them to speak their minds openly.”