July 29

final-jur-e headline

Federal Panel Nullifies Application of Statute Curbing Jury-Nullification Demonstrators

In Picard v. Magliano et al., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held that New York Penal Law (NYPL) ยง 215.50(7) as applied to an individual who wishes to promote the general concept of jury nullification outside New York courthouses violates the demonstrator’s First Amendment rights.  The law makes a person guilty of criminal contempt in the second degree if, within a radius of 200 feet of a courthouse, she or he “calls aloud, shouts, holds or displays placards or signs containing written or printed matter, concerning the conduct of a trial being held in such courthouse.”  In late 2017, Michael Picard, a self-described civil libertarian, stood on the sidewalk outside the Bronx County Hall of Justice holding a sign that read, “Jury Info” and handing out flyers to passersby directing them to “Google Jury Nullification.” A New York State Court Officer told Picard to move and warned him that he would be arrested if he did not move at least 200 feet from the courthouse. Picard, however, refused to move. The officer then arrested Picard for violating the NYPL. A Bronx County Assistant District Attorney ultimately declined to prosecute Picard because the officer had not measured how far from the courthouse Picard was standing when he was arrested.  The panel found Picard had standing to sue.  And, while there was a compelling state interest underpinning the statute (protecting the integrity of judicial proceedings), it was unlawfully applied to Mr. Picard because his speech wasn't connected to any specific trial and was non-intrusive and non-disruptive.

Potential Jurors in Alex Jones Defamation Trial Have Trouble with Punitive Damages

A defamation lawsuit brought by the parents of two children killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School against Infowars host Alex Jones got underway this week in Texas.  The Associated Press reports the parents are seeking an award in a specific dollar amount against Jones, but their attorneys suggested they could seek $100 million or more in compensatory and punitive damages.  The Stamford Advocate (Bridgeport) provided this snippet about jury selection:

Scores of jurors in a Texas courtroom said they could not be fair and unbiased calculating how much money Alex Jones should pay the parents of a slain Sandy Hook boy Jones defamed because of their belief in free speech, and their objection that awards of $100 million are simply too high.  "I believe people have to be accountable for what they say, but I think we are entitled to freedom of speech," said a man identified as juror No. 9 during questioning Monday in Austin's Travis County Courtroom.

"I am hearing you say that you don't like defamation lawsuits because we live in a free society and therefore because of that bias it would be hard for you to make a decision?" said the parents' attorney Wesley Ball in a packed court filled with a jury pool of 100 people. "Is that fair?"  "I don't know if I have a bias,” the juror objected.  "But you are agreeing that this is going to make it difficult for you to follow the law, the facts and the judge's instructions, because of this deeply held belief that you have?"  "Yes," the juror said.

Former Juror Criticizes Courts for Lack of Concern for Juror Stress

The BBC shares the trauma suffered by Dr. Joselyn Sellen, a psychologist who served as a juror in a trial involving the murder of a four-year-old child.

Attorneys Seeking “Breadcrumbs” of Juror’s Alleged Misconduct

The Enquirer in Cincinnati reports on the legal challenge being waged by former City Council member P.G. Sittenfeld, who was convicted of bribery earlier this month.  The defense team claims a juror “left a trail of breadcrumbs” and urging the trial judge to conduct a forensic examination of juror telephone communications to uncover many comments made on Facebook expressing hate for persons who are employed like Mr. Sittenfeld.  (In its reporting on the case, WCPO, ABC-9 in Cincinnati broadcast remarkable, hidden video footage of the council member’s illicit communications to undercover law enforcement officers.)

Federal Prosecutor to Jury: “Substitute Emotion for Evidence” – Conviction Affirmed

In United States v. Abukhatallah, the defendant was convicted of various terrorism charges.  On appeal, he sought reversal based upon the prosecutor’s "inflammatory" remarks, which aimed to exploit "emotions and nationalism." The National Law Journal ($) reports the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with the appellant’s criticisms of the prosecutor saying, “The prosecutor repeatedly encouraged the jury to 'substitute emotion for evidence,' and she made an appeal to nationalism that was 'wholly irrelevant to any facts or issues in the case, the purpose and effect of which [was] only . . . to arouse passion and prejudice,'" and added, “We expect better from an attorney representing the United States."  Nevertheless, they ruled against the ultimate request.  They found the jury-screening process, including a 28-page jury selection questionnaire, required by the trial judge, and the mountain of evidence presented insulated the case from mistrial.  "The record evidence overwhelmingly supports the jury's verdict, leaving little practical room for the prosecutor's appeals to nationalism and emotion to operate."