Mar 25

final-jur-e headline

Do Litigants There Have Broader Rights Than Batson Provides?

In State v. Jose A.B., the Connecticut Supreme Court answers this question in the negative.  On appeal from a sexual assault conviction, the defendant argued the trial court improperly denied two Batson challenges based upon prospective jurors having distrust of the criminal justice system.  The appeal raised the issue of whether the state constitution provides broader protections against discriminatory strikes than Batson. Specifically, the constitutional amendments of 1972 gave the parties the right “to challenge jurors peremptorily’ and the right ‘to question each juror individually by counsel.” (Citations omitted). This amendment predated the United States Supreme Court's decision in Batson by 14 years.  In a scholarly opinion by the chief justice, the court invoked “judicial restraint” principles and decided against appellant. Specifically, the chief wrote, “[W]e are not prepared to conclude, on this record, that a prosecutor's exercise of a peremptory challenge on the basis of a venire person's negative perceptions or distrust of law enforcement or the criminal justice system constitutes an impermissible, race-based reason under the Connecticut constitution pursuant to the second step of the Batson inquiry. Without making any final pronouncement on the matter or issuing a determination applicable to any and all factual scenarios involving the exercise of peremptory challenges on the basis of negative perceptions of this nature, we are disinclined on the present record to hold that greater protection is warranted under the Connecticut constitution than is provided under the existing federal Batson scheme.”

A New Jury of Peers

The Daily Press reports ($) that the city of Newport News in Virginia will launch a Youth Justice Diversion Program this summer to give young people a second chance to keep their records clean after first-time offenses.  Under the new delinquency diversion program authorized by the state legislature, teenagers who commit specified minor offenses will have the opportunity to go before a jury that’s made up of middle and high school students.  Students can also volunteer to be courtroom clerks and bailiffs.  The judge will be a volunteer lawyer.  It is expected that student volunteers, aided by volunteer law students, will learn more about the judicial system.   Sanctions may include community service, workshops or classes, or formal apology letters. In cases of vandalism, sanctions may also include restitution.  When a youth completes the diversion program and sanctions, the original charge is dismissed.

Philadelphia City Councilman Jury Selection Snagged – Too Few Jurors Returned on Subsequent Day of Voir Dire

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports U.S. District Court Judge Gerald A. McHugh postponed completion of jury selection in the bribery trial of City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson.  On the first day of trial, McHugh along with the attorneys interviewed 80 prospective jurors individually in his chambers.  When they were not able to seat 12 jurors and 4 alternates on that day, the judge had to delay further voir dire after multiple venire persons did not return to the courtroom on day #2.  Completion of jury selection had to be delayed to another day so that a new venire could be gathered and interviewed.

Michigan Journalist Wants to Be Called for Jury Duty

Reporter Mardi Link writes in her Traverse City newspaper, the Record-Eagle: “Jury duty gets such a bad rap.  Which, truth be told, I do not understand….  All I can say is, pick me….  As someone who has covered trials for the Record-Eagle, read pillar-sized stacks of trial transcripts for book research, along with court records that include notes from juries to judges, I'm here to tell you, by shirking your duty you're really missing out.”  It is a fun read available here.

California Group Issues Interim Report on Improving Juror Experience and Post-Pandemic Initiatives

In March 2021, Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye appointed an Ad Hoc Workgroup on Post-Pandemic Initiatives. The workgroup is tasked “to identify, refine, and enhance successful court practices that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic to increase access to justice, modernize services, and promote uniformity and consistency in these practices going forward.”  The workgroup heard from stakeholders from across the state on creative strategies adopted and challenges experienced throughout the pandemic.  The workgroup now released its second interim report with the following recommendations to the California Judicial Council:

  • The Judicial Council should encourage and support efforts to secure designated and ongoing state funding for juror pay and mitigate transportation issues to reduce potential barriers to juror participation.
  • To increase efficiency and access to the public, California courts should consider allowing jurors to complete their juror questionnaires and hardship forms online, before being required to physically appear in court for voir dire.
  • California courts should consider staggering jury service appearance times with varying panel sizes to maximize efficiency for court staff and the public.
  • California courts should consider developing or adopting virtual jury selection platforms that incorporate modules for conducting voir dire, which can help to streamline the juror selection process and gather information related to for-cause and peremptory challenges.