Monday, October 22, 2007

US v. Jones, No. 06-15203 -- Jury coerced by the Judge to reach a verdict

Our Constitution provides certain rights to Defendants, a major one being trial by jury. Each of the 12 jurors is under sacred obligation to vote his conscience when deciding guilt and innocence, and if he has reasonable doubt, he has a moral and legal obligation to acquit. Jurors are not to abandon "honestly held beliefs" about the guilt or innocence of the defendant in order to reach a verdict.

In the above cited case, after 2 hours of deliberation, the Jury sent its second note to the Judge that it was deadlocked. The Judge did not accept the Jury's deadlock and ordered them to appear the next day to continue deliberating, and added, "we will do this until you reach a verdict."

The next day, one of the jurors called in sick, and an alternate took her place. The new Jury was told to begin deliberations again, but that "there was no need of sending the court any notes that the jury can't agree, because you are going to stay here a long time." After an hour of deliberation, the Jury convicted the defendant.

In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Jenkins, ruled that "An instruction which appears to give a jury no choice but to return a verdict is impermissibly coercive." Furthermore, the instruction is "plain error," meaning that objection by Defense Counsel is not necessary in order to preserve the error on appeal.

"Such an error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of judicial hearings."

Based on this plain error, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Read the full opinion . . .

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