“My dinner is on the line”: State Supreme Court Says It’s OK for Judge’s Wife to Sit on Jury
The Colorado Sun reports that the Colorado Supreme Court, by a vote of 7 to 1, ruled that multiple guilty verdicts against Gary Val Richardson are lawful despite the fact the Judge Thomas R. Ensor after jury selection ended joked with the parties saying, “Be nice to Juror 25 (his wife). Dinner is on the line.” At other times during the trial, Ensor and his wife engaged in open court banter about whether they would eat teriyaki or chicken. The high court found it significant that neither side moved to strike the juror during voir dire. The lone dissenter on the appellate panel, Justice Richard Gabriel, wrote, “The judge’s conduct, however well-intentioned it may have been, undermined the independence of the jury in this case and created an obvious appearance of impropriety.”
Maryland Appellate Panel Criticizes Voir Dire Method Where Affirmative Answers to Open Court Questions Lead to Automatic Exclusion of a Citizen
In Richard Williams v. State, the trial judge created a jury selection method whereby, after all open court questions were posed to prospective jurors, those who answered any question in the affirmative would be struck for cause without any follow-up questioning by the court or counsel. The defendant on appeal asserted this procedure, devoid of a finding of bias, overly excluded potential jurors and thereby violated his rights to a fair cross-section of the community. For example, if a citizen answered affirmatively to a question about knowing someone doing law enforcement, their automatic exclusion could lead to the loss of a legitimate community perspective. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland vacated the conviction on other grounds. In undertaking a lengthy analysis of this voir dire procedure, the court stated, “Although in this case we cannot find that the jury was skewed improperly, the marginal improvement in judicial efficiency from selecting a jury this way does not seem to be worth the risk of unfair trials, reversals, and retrials.”
7th Federal Circuit Interprets FRCP 47(a) – Trial Court Not Required to Allow Party to Ask Follow-up Qs During Voir Dire
In his civil action against prison doctors, Ronald Barrow alleged the U.S. District Court committed reversible error by not letting him ask questions of prospective jurors. In denying his appeal, the 7th Circuit panel homed in on the terms of Fed Rule of Civil Procedure 47(a): “The court may permit the parties or their attorneys to examine prospective jurors or may itself do so”). The court further stated parties may not demand that the judge ask specific questions. The court “has wide discretion to decide whether there is cause to excuse a potential juror…. Barrow has not pointed to any decision that falls outside that discretion.”
Kentucky Supreme Court Affirms There’s No Constitutional Prohibition Against Jurors Having Prior Knowledge of the Case
In Curry v, Commonwealth, defendant argued that two jurors should have been struck for cause during voir dire because one said she trusts people in law enforcement. Another said he may have read something in the news about the case. After thorough questioning of the jurors, the trial judge denied Mr. Curry’s motions to strike for cause. The state supreme court rejected the arguments with instructive reasoning. Reminiscent of our Founders’ warmth for the principle of the jury vicinage, the court stated, “The Constitution does not require ignorant or uninformed jurors; it requires impartial jurors. Accordingly, in order to have a juror struck for cause based upon his or her pre-trial exposure to information about a case, that information must “engender a predisposition or bias that cannot be put aside.”
No Federal Jury Trials Until 2021?
That is what a senior U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle-Tacoma Washington is saying. However, Western Washington Chief Judge Ricardo S. Martinez told Bloomberg Law that Coughenour’s timetable isn’t the official position of the court, and that things still could fall into place by year’s end.