Jan 13

final-jur-e headline

Allowing One Juror to Participate Virtually Is Not Legal Error

In United States v. Knight, the Ninth Federal Circuit upheld two robbery convictions despite the defendant’s claims it was structural error for the trial judge to allow one juror to participate remotely during the first two days of evidence presentation. The judge permitted the virtual presence of the juror to accommodate the juror’s need to be with his ill wife (who may also have infected him with the COVID virus). The appellate panel concluded there was no violation of Mr. Knight’s 5th and 6th Amendment rights. In addition to finding Mr. Knight knowingly and voluntarily consented to the juror accommodation, the court stated:

[There is] no reason to suppose—that the remote participation of a duly empaneled juror interfered with the functioning of the jury, somehow made that juror partial or unrepresentative, or impacted the procedures used for the presentation of witnesses. Unlike a deprivation of counsel, a biased adjudicator, or the failure to ensure that the jurors are instructed on the law, allowing remote juror participation does not impact the entire framework of the trial in ways that cannot be accurately measured on review. Rather, it merely creates room for the types of problems and errors identified by Knight, such as difficulties in seeing exhibits, hearing testimony, and/or viewing witnesses. But none of those errors will necessarily arise simply because a juror is participating remotely. Knight asks us to presume that the remote participation of a juror will always render a trial unfair and the judgment unreliable, but there is no case law or record evidence to support such a presumption. The alleged error simply does not fall within the limited class of structural errors that cannot be waived and which require automatic reversal.

“Eliminating Shadows and Ghosts: Ways to Improve Inclusiveness and Representativeness in Jury Summoning”

That is the title of a free webinar hosted by the National Association for Presiding Judges and Court Administrators. The 75-minute program will be presented by Hon. Glenn A. Grant, director, Administrative Office of the Courts, New Jersey Judicial Branch, and Michelle Goodman, staff attorney, Indiana State Jury Committee, Office of Court Services. NCSC’s Paula Hannaford-Agor will moderate. Pre-registration is required using this link.

Oregon Supreme Court Applies Unanimous Jury Doctrine Retroactively to 100s of Cases

According to the Astorian (Oregon) newspaper, the Oregon high court has applied the nonunanimous jury doctrine promulgated in 2020 by the Supreme Court in Ramos v. Louisiana to all nonunanimous convictions rendered before 2020. The case is captioned Watkins v. Ackley. The news report states,

It’s estimated that around 300 people are in Oregon's prisons because of nonunanimous jury convictions. The Oregon Supreme Court's decision will no doubt have sweeping implications for victims, as well as backers of the law like many district attorneys in Oregon, who had argued nonunanimous juries created a more efficient justice system with fewer hung juries. In a statement, the Oregon District Attorney's Association said it would be “challenging if not impossible” to take the nonunanimous jury cases back to court, many of which stretch back years if not decades.

Boston Marathon Bomber Makes New Challenge to His Death Sentence

WBUR public radio in Boston and the National Law Journal ($$) each report on the oral arguments made earlier this week before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. On appeal, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers argued that one juror’s retweet calling their client a “piece of garbage” should have been investigated further by the trial court. When asked during the selection process if she had commented on the case on the Internet, she replied that she hadn’t. She tweeted or retweeted 21 other Twitter posts related to the case too. Tsarnaev’s defense also pointed to another juror who posted on Facebook as he was going through the jury selection process. The juror’s friend responded encouraging him to “play the part” to get on the jury and send Tsarnaev “to jail where he will be taken care of.” Defense noted that eighteen days later, the court asked the juror if he discussed the case, and he responded no. U.S. District Judge George O’Toole allowed both jurors to remain on the case.