Pennsylvania Supreme Court Criticizes Trial Judge’s Effort to Explain “Reasonable Doubt”
In Commonwealth v. Drummond, the state supreme court considered a matter of first impression. Specifically, whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to a jury instruction in which the judge analogized a juror’s application of the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard to a juror’s hypothetical decision making regarding surgery involving a “precious one.” The trial judge’s additions to the established pattern jury instruction included:
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I find it helpful to think about reasonable doubt in this way. Because I had the great fortune to speak with every one of you individually, I know that each of you has someone in your life that you love, a precious one, a spouse, a significant other, a sibling, a niece, a nephew, a grandchild. Each of you loves somebody. If you were told by your precious one that they had a life-threatening condition and the doctor was calling for surgery, you would probably say, stop. Wait a minute. Tell me about this condition. What is this? You probably want to know what's the best protocol for treating this condition? Who is the best doctor in the region? No. You are my precious one. Who is the best doctor in the country? You will probably research the illness. You will research the people who handle this, the hospitals. If you are like me, you will call everyone who you know who has anything to do with medicine in their life. Tell me what you know. Who is the best? Where do I go? But at some moment the question will be called. Do you go forward with the surgery or not? If you go forward, it is not because you have moved beyond all doubt. There are no guarantees. If you go forward, it is because you have moved beyond all reasonable doubt.
The supreme court found:
Beckoning jurors to draw upon their personal lives not only misdirects them from their neutral task of objectively evaluating the evidence presented by the parties, but also “allows each juror to judge the evidence by a visceral standard unique to that juror rather than an objective heightened standard of proof applicable to each juror. It allows jurors to convict based upon their individual ‘gut feeling.’” (Quoting Hernandez, 176 F.3d at 728.)
The panel concluded “instructions of this nature are reasonably likely to cause a jury to apply a diminished standard of proof in criminal cases, thus posing significant risks to a defendant’s due process rights. Accordingly, we find arguable merit to Gerald Drummond’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim.” However, for reasons related to ineffective counsel jurisprudence, the court affirmed the trial court's order affirming the denial of Mr. Drummond's post-conviction relief petition because counsel cannot be deemed ineffective for failing to anticipate a change in the law.
Now Available: Major Studies Aimed at Improving Jury-Summoning Processes
The NCSC Center for Jury Studies recently published “Eliminating Shadows and Ghosts,” a study of inclusiveness, representativeness, and accuracy for master jury lists in three states. The study found the U.S. Postal Service National Change of Address (NCOA) system updated an average of 10% of address records across six different juror source lists. In a follow-up effort, the Center issued a Request for Information (RFI) to NCOA-authorized vendors seeking information about the cost of services and the availability of supplemental services for hypothetical courts with different volumes of record processing. Earlier this week, the Center published “Delivering the Jury Summons to the Correct Address: Benefits and Costs of NCOA Processing” summarizing RFI responses from 13 NCOA providers. This latest report shows the potential savings for courts for printing, postage, and staff costs and highlights considerations for choosing between vendor services.
Trial Judge Rejects Capitol Rioter Claim D.C. Juries Can’t Be Fair
The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports a federal judge in the District of Columbia rejected a request by Richard “Bigo” Barnett that the riot charges against him be dismissed or the case be removed to Arkansas because “President Joe Biden and the congressional Jan. 6 Committee have ‘intentionally and irreparably poisoned the jury pool.’”
San Francisco Launched “Be The Jury” Pilot Program to Compensate Low-Income Jurors $100 a Day
Last March, the San Francisco Treasurer’s Financial Justice Project, in partnership with the San Francisco Superior Court, Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, and Bar Association, undertook a six-month pilot project to increase the daily juror stipend from $15 per day to $100 per day for low-to-moderate-income San Franciscans who are summoned to serve on juries but cannot serve because they would face a financial hardship. The pilot included an instructional video played in the jury assembly room each day. The purpose of the pilot was to help ensure that San Francisco juries are made up of a balanced cross-section of San Francisco residents, enabling jurors to better administer justice that reflects the values of diverse San Francisco communities. An analysis of the pilot has now been published.