Feb 18

final-jur-e headline

North Carolina Supreme Court Finds a Batson Violation – For the First Time Since 1986

In a 4 to 3 ruling last week, the state high court in State v. Clegg determined the trial judge improperly denied a Batson claim.  The lengthy and scholarly opinions by majority justices determined the trial judge, among other things, did not properly compare the questioning of struck jurors with retained jurors.  Associate Justice Anita Earls, in a concurring opinion, acknowledged the supreme court has ineffectively enforced the Batson doctrine. She admitted the Clegg case is the first time the court has ever found a Batson violation, citing Daniel R. Pollitt & Brittany P. Warren, Thirty Years of Disappointment: North Carolina’s Remarkable Appellate Batson Record, 94 N.C. L. Rev. 1957 (2016).

Diverse Jury Selected in Ahmaud Arbery Hate Crimes Trial

The Washington Post describes the demographics of the jury empaneled this week in the prosecution of Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan.  (It took over a week to complete jury selection from 1,000 citizens summoned from 43 counties.)  On Monday U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood seated the final 12-member jury composed of eight White people, three Black people, and one Hispanic person — a more diverse panel than in the state murder trial. Wood said she expects the trial to last between 7 and 12 days.

When Can a Judge Overturn a Jury Verdict?

In United States v. Crittenden, a divided panel of the US 5th Circuit supported the trial court’s decision to overturn a jury verdict because the evidence failed to show that Crittenden had knowledge of the nature of the controlled substance he possessed as was required to convict him of possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute. In other words, it would have been “a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand.”  The case is especially interesting due to the dueling views in the majority and dissenting opinions.  The majority concluded the trial judge “did not simply disregard the jury’s verdict in favor of one it felt was more reasonable.” But, rather, it “cautiously reweighed the evidence, determined that a mistake had been committed, and permissibly granted a new trial to ‘prevent a miscarriage of justice.’”  In a vigorous dissent, Judge Gregg Costa pointed to “beaucoup evidence” showing Crittenden knew he possessed a controlled substance.  He found the trial judge was most concerned about the 292-to-365-month mandatory sentence resulting from a conviction.  His dissent closes with, “[T]he district court—now with our court’s blessing—concluded that the cross-section of the El Paso community that found Crittenden guilty committed a miscarriage of justice. (I guess I too would have been party to that miscarriage of justice as I think the jury got it right.) This judicial override of the jury’s verdict disrespects their service.”

When Does an Anti-Deadlock Instruction Become Unlawfully Coercive?

In Callaham v. United States, the D.C. Court of Appeals was faced with review of a robbery conviction in which the deliberating jury sent multiple notes to the trial judge indicating they were deadlocked followed by notes in one instance asking these questions: “What is [p]roof of taking without right? How do we know [he] didn’t have a right to property? What is the basis of knowing whether or not the defend[ant] had right to property or not?”  After the court instructed them to continue deliberating, the jury sent another note saying, “After re-watching and reviewing the evidence, and after further intense discussions, we are still at an impasse. We carefully considered and re-considered each of the elements of the allegations [and] . . . [w]e are unable to reach a unanimous verdict.”  The court denied a defense motion for a mistrial and gave the standard anti-deadlock Winters instruction. Thereafter, the jury announced a guilty verdict.  But during final jury polling, one juror stated disagreement with the verdict.  Prompting the trial judge gave a different anti-deadlock instruction resulting in a guilty verdict.  On appeal, the high court took the position it must assess the risk of juror coercion “from the jurors’ perspective,” inquiring into both “the inherent coercive potential of the entire situation before the trial court and the ameliorative or exacerbating impact of the judge’s actions in response to that situation.” The panel stated, “Taking into account this ‘entire situation,’ we conclude that the coercive potential was high at the time the trial court opted to deliver another anti-deadlock instruction."

Australian Courts Facing Juror Misconduct and Intimidation Phenomena

There’s a truism, “We all have a lot more in common than differences.”  The Western Australian news service WAtoday describes a smorgasbord of instances where Australian juries are facing security fears or demonstrating internal misbehaviors not dissimilar from jury trials in the USA.