Florida Political Leaders Want to Eliminate Unanimous Verdicts in Capital Cases
Court TV reports Governor Ron DeSantis convinced several state legislators to introduce legislation to require an 8-to-4 majority to impose a death sentence. The proposal comes after a divided 9-3 jury spared Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz in November from capital punishment for killing 17 at the school in 2018. Only three states out of the 27 that impose the death penalty do not require unanimity. Alabama allows a 10-2 decision, and Missouri and Indiana let a judge decide when there is a divided jury.
In Ruling on Batson Challenge, D.C. High Court Ponders Racial Differences of Victim & Accused and Strikes Based Upon Juror Intelligence
In Smith v United States, Mr. Smith who is Black sought to reverse his conviction for first-degree sexual abuse of a White victim on the grounds the prosecutor struck four Black venire members for racially discriminatory reasons. With respect to two stricken jurors, the government claimed they lacked sufficient intelligence to serve on a case involving scientific evidence. In rejecting the appeal, the court acknowledged the “racially charged” nature of the case requires more searching Batson inquiries by trial judges—where, for example, the case “involves a victim of one race and stricken jurors of a different race,” or where the success of a defense “turn[s] on whether the jury would find more credible the black witness or the white witnesses.” The court also noted “more rigorous scrutiny” is needed where a prima facie case of discrimination is especially strong, including where the government “eliminat[ed] . . . all non-black venirepersons from the jury.” The court found the government’s strikes of two jurors based upon concerns for their ability to comprehend some kinds of evidence to be “more difficult.” On that point, the court stated, “The government explained both strikes by reference to the jurors’ professions, expressing a ‘concern about the level of scientific evidence in this case.’” Defense counsel contested this point, arguing that the idea that Black jurors “were too unintelligent to serve on a jury” was not “an effective reason to withstand that challenge.” The panel ultimately supported the trial court’s decision that the government’s rationale was “credible” and the strikes were race neutral. There was no dissenting opinion.
Self-Harming Juror Dismissal Not Reversible Error
In State v. Norman, the Washington State Supreme Court, sitting en banc, considered whether it was legal error for a trial judge to dismiss a deliberating juror who was punching himself in the face and thereby impairing the jury’s ability to discuss issues “in an orderly and reasonable manner.” The high court affirmed Mr. Norman’s conviction (and reversed an intermediate appellate court decision reversing Mr. Norman’s conviction) based upon a finding the trial court carefully avoided inquiring about the content of jury deliberations on the merits and, instead, focused on the effects one juror’s disturbing conduct would have upon the ability of other jurors to reach unanimity. The supreme court affirmed the trial judge’s decision by emphasizing the importance of jurors being able to compare views and argue among themselves and to be free to dissect the credibility and motivations of others.
Arkansas Newspaper Editorial Asserts D.C. Jurors Can Be Just as Fair as Arkansas Jurors
The Jur-E Bulletin recently reported that Richard “Bigo” Barnett, a now-convicted invader of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, claimed he could not get a fair trial in front of a District of Columbia jury. Now the editorial board of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette has published an editorial criticizing Mr. Barnett’s claim, saying in part:
"What Barnett seems to believe is he’d have a better chance a [sic] jury nullification in his home state. That is, perhaps a jury here would choose to ignore the law simply because Arkansas is a more conservative state than D.C.
Here's the thing: When crimes are committed, the people who are accused of committing them don’t get to pick where they should be tried. In courtrooms across the country, people go to trial in jurisdictions where the crimes occurred. It would be like some thug assaulting someone in a hate crime in San Francisco because they thought the person was gay, then demanding to move the resulting trial to Wyoming or Montana because they feared San Fran’s reputation as a welcoming city for the LGBTQ community."