A three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the trial of Dzhokar Tsarnaev can be held in Boston. Defense attorneys for Tsarnaev had requested a change of venue arguing that because of extensive pre-trial publicity about the Boston Marathon bombing Tsarnaev could not get a fair trial in Boston. To read the opinion by the First Circuit go here. The question of whether Tsarnaev's trial should be moved has also been debated on the Op-Ed page of the NY Times.
This week the MA Supreme Judicial Court determined that the names of jurors must be made public at the completion of trial. Specifically, the high court ruled in Commonwealth v. Fujita that "a list of the names of jurors empaneled in any criminal case be included in the court file of the case, no later than at the completion of the trial."
In Fujita, a teenager was convicted of murdering his girlfriend. The press wanted the names of the jurors in the case so that they could talk to them about the trial. The court said no and instead informed the press that the judge would write the jurors and enquire if they were interested in being contacted by the media. Only two jurors said "yes."
In overruling the trial judge, the state high court found that "[o]nly on a judicial finding of good cause, which may include a risk of harm to the jurors or the integrity of their service, may such a list be withheld." Among other things, this case is a good read because it talks about the importance of having an open and transparent jury system. The opinion also mentions the prosecution of the British soldiers for the Boston Massacre and how their trial was "open to the public, and the identities of the jurors who acquitted the soldiers were known to the community."
It should come as no surprise that it will take some time to find 24 (12 alternatives the most I have ever seen) impartial jurors for the James Holmes death penalty trial. The article below highlights the myriad of excuses that prospective jurors will use to avoid serving on this trial. Full disclosure, I am quoted in the article.
[w]hether Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) permits a party moving for a new trial based on juror dishonest during voir dire to introduce juror testimony about statements made during deliberations that tend to show the alleged dishonesty?
This case arose out of a motor vehicle accident in which a motorcyclists collided with a truck. The motorcyclist lost his leg and then subsequently brought a negligence action against the truck driver. The jury found in favor of the truck driver.
Shortly after the trial, a juror approached plaintiff's counsel and informed him that one juror, the forewoman, refused to decide the case on the evidence submitted. This juror further informed plaintiff's counsel that the forewoman told other jurors during deliberations that her daughter had been at fault in a fatal automobile accident and that had she been sued it would have "ruined her life."
Plaintiff's counsel had the juror complete a sworn affidavit in which he detailed the actions of the forewoman. However, the trial court, citing 606(b), refused to admit the affidavit into evidence. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision.
Generally speaking, FRE 606(b), the juror anti-impeachment rule, prohibits the introduction of evidence concerning juror deliberations. FRE 606(b), is in place to: (1) provide verdict finality; (2) encourage jurors to freely express themselves during deliberations; and (3) reduce the amount of post-trial hounding jurors receive from attorneys. The Courts of Appeal, however, have not been uniform in their application of FRE 606(b) which is why this case has been granted cert. Hopefully, the SCT can provide the lower courts better guidance on the application of FRE 606(b).
Judge Lucy Koh last week denied Samsung's motion for retrial in its patent dispute with Apple (to read earlier posts about this trial go here and here). However, in making her ruling, she did rebuke the attorneys for Apple for harping on the fact that Samsung is a Korean corporation. Apparently, foreign corporations accused of infringing on a patent fair far worse when going before a jury as opposed to a judge.
Judge Koh highlighted this fact in her ruling when she cited a previous study that
found that “foreign patent holder win rates in jury trials against domestic infringers (38%) are significantly lower than domestic patent holder win rates against foreign infringers (82%). In contrast, in cases decided by judges, the patentee win rate is almost identical, with domestic patentees winning 35% of the time against foreign infringers, and foreign patentees winning 31% of the time against domestic infringers.”
Here is the motion filed by Jodi Arias' defense counsel to access the Twitter accounts of any future jurors who might be empanelled in a death penalty sentencing trial.
As some may recall, Arias was previously convicted in May of killing her on and off again boyfriend, Travis Alexander. At the time of her conviction, the jurors could not decide whether or not Arias deserved the death penalty. Thus, although she was convicted, she has not been completely sentenced. Her case is in a state flux as prosecutors must decide if they want to seat a new jury in order to pursue the death penalty. If a new jury is not empanelled, Arias will be sentenced to life.
According to defense counsel, they need access to the Twitter accounts of any future jurors to ensure that any decision made by the jury is based on evidence presented at trial not information gleaned from Twitter. The defense attorneys also note that in Arias' earlier trial some jurors failed to strictly abide by the courts admonitions against using social media. The government has not yet responded to the motion.
Media outlets are reporting that at least one juror from the Zimmerman trial has inked a book deal. Apparently, this juror is not so concerned about her anonymity or privacy. As some may recall, the trial judge in this case not only sequestered the jurors but also at least for the time being preserved their anonymity.
Some may question the need for anonymity when one of the jurors is looking to write a book about her experience. Of course, she is not the first to try and make jury service profitable. Other examples of jurors penning books after serving on high-profile trials can be found here and here.
The real issue with jurors becoming authors is that they might be more worried about selling their experience to others than finding the truth especially in a high profile case like this one. This is even more of a concern with anonymous jurors who have less oversight and accountability than traditional jurors.
The judge in the Zimmerman murder trial has shifted course and has now decided to sequester the jurors.
The Florida judge presiding over George Zimmerman's murder trial reversed herself today and announced that the jurors will be sequestered for the trial.
"The parties have, both sides have, stipulated that this trial will last between two and four weeks," Judge Debra Nelson said. "Based upon that approximate stipulation, I will be sequestering the jury."
Earlier the judge had ruled that the six-member jury and four alternates would be anonymous, but declined to have them sequestered.
In February 2012, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Fla., shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after a confrontation in the dark. Zimmerman has said he shot the black teen, who he said had been acting "suspiciously," in self-defense.
The racially charged case has attracted national attention.
Jurors are rarely sequestered, isolated by the court away from their families and their homes, for a second degree murder trial. But suspicious testimony by potential jurors this week has triggered fear of a tainted jury pool