No Reversable Error Where Peremptory Strikes Were Based on Jurors’ Ages & Judge Repeatedly Gave Preliminary Instruction Telling Jurors to Disregard their Life Experiences
In Commonwealth v. Grier, the appellant lodged multiple claims of error, including (1) the trial judge failed to find there was prima facie showing of race discrimination under step one of the three-part Batson doctrine, and (2) she misguided the jury on their duty to be “fair and impartial. " The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts rejected both claims. It supported the trial judge’s ruling the prosecutor’s pattern of peremptory strikes did not involve race discrimination but age discrimination. The panel opined age discrimination is not prohibited by Batson and, thus, there was no need for the trial judge to entertain a prima facie showing from defense counsel. As to the other claim of error, the trial judge gave the following daily reminder to jurors (but not during the final charge) regarding their duty to be impartial:
Being fair and impartial doesn't necessarily mean that you've never had any thoughts or opinions or experiences that might be in some way relevant. That probably wouldn't describe many people. Being fair and impartial requires that you can and you will decide the facts of this case based solely on the evidence presented in the trial of this case. So if you've had some kind of relevant experience or thoughts or views or read something or heard something that might be in some way relevant, that you will put that out of your mind, put that aside, and decide the facts of this case based solely on the evidence presented in the trial of this case. (Emphasis supplied.)
While confirming the underlined language was not “fully consonant with” caselaw, the court found there was “no miscarriage of justice.”
Defendant’s In-Trial Suicide Provokes Juror Guilt, Stress, and Judge/Lawyer Advice
As a Texas judge read a jury’s five guilty verdicts against Edward Peter Leclair, the defendant gulped from a nearby water bottle (later learned to contain cyanide). According to New York Times reporter Edwardo Medina, the trial judge shared news of the fatality with the 12 jurors a few days later when they were supposed to sentence the defendant. Leclair’s lawyer Mike Howard was present and described the courtroom scene as “highly emotional.” Nearly all the jurors began to cry. Some believed that they had essentially driven a man to kill himself because of their verdict. “The judge was concerned that they would feel guilty — that they would feel guilty like this was their fault.” Mr. Howard said the judge gave a forceful message: “You have nothing to feel bad about.” Defense counsel told them, ‘You know, the prosecution and defense see this case differently, and that’s OK. We’re adversaries, and that’s our job. But at the end of the day, your job is to come in and be fair and apply the law — and you did.”
Trial Court’s Reliance on Juror Demeanor to Grant “For Cause” Strikes Is Validated
In Bridges v. State, Arleshia Bridges was convicted of murdering her husband seven days after their wedding day. The Georgia Supreme Court approved the trial judge’s striking of three prospective jurors based upon their demeanor. One struck venire member was a maintenance porter at the defendant’s and victim’s apartment complex and said she “knew and liked” Ms. Bridges. The other two struck jurors disclosed they were prior victims of domestic violence. With respect to one, the court concluded the juror showed a “leaning or bias” for the defendant. Regarding the other juror, the court determined her “emotions” would prevent her from complying with the court’s instructions.
Lifetime Documentary Series on R. Kelly Becomes Focus in Jury Selection
We learn from CBS News in Chicago that a 16-part series (streaming online since January 2020) about rapper R. Kelly is a common subject of questioning during voir dire going on this week in a federal obstruction-of-justice prosecution. (Earlier this year, Kelly was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking in a New York federal court.) Kelly's legal team argued that anyone who has seen that "inflammatory" docuseries will not have the ability to remain impartial, but the judge in the case rejected a defense motion to dismiss any potential juror who may have seen any part of the series. Instead, the judge said potential jurors' fairness will be determined individually, depending on how much of the series they might have seen, and how long ago.