Trial by (Im)Partial Jury?

November 3rd, 2015 by Attorney Dan Carman

Untruthful Jury

There have been many headlines lately in high-profile cases concerning the veracity not of the defendant or even a key witness, but of a juror. While the idea behind the U.S. jury system is that a group of people from diverse backgrounds can arrive at a better verdict than can one person acting alone, juries are riddled with problems. Whether justice is truly served is directly related to the quality of the jurors who are seated.

The guilty verdicts against two former Vanderbilt football players accused in the rape of an unconscious female student were thrown out last month by a Nashville court after it was revealed that the jury foreman had failed to disclose that he had been a victim of a sex crime. Defense attorneys argued that the juror deliberately withheld his past victimization, successfully lobbied to be the jury foreman and gave several media interviews after the verdicts were announced. Also in June, a New York federal appeals court set aside the tax fraud conviction of a former Deutsche Bank broker after it was discovered that one of the jurors faked her identity to get on the jury and failed to reveal she had past arrests.

One day after New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of murder, one of his defense attorneys received an anonymous tip that a juror might have been untruthful during jury selection. Motions filed by his defense team for a “post verdict inquiry respecting a juror’s exposure to extraneous matters” are currently pending. And in an unusual turn of events, a juror in Colorado just finished serving a 10-day sentence for contempt and paid a $10,000 fine after she was accused of lying on her juror questionnaire during the selection process for a 2004 murder trial, resulting in a retrial.

The legal system anticipates that some jurors may have to be excused before a trial ends due to personal reasons or may have to be replaced due to issues with their questionnaires. To avoid having to retry a case, the court may seat a few alternate jurors who sit with selected jurors and are available if needed. When deliberations are over, a jury’s verdict is not revisited or disturbed without good reason.

When a juror is accused of lying, there must also be clear evidence that the lie was material – that the juror’s behavior directly affected the trial’s outcome.

The verdict of the jury is to be based solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom. To ensure all jurors receive the same information in a case, there are certain guidelines they are expected to follow:

  • Jurors are permitted to take notes only if allowed by the judge.
  • Jurors may not ask questions of witnesses.
  • Jurors should not talk about the case with anyone or with other jurors until deliberations.
  • Jurors are not to investigate the case on their own, to read accounts of the trial in the newspaper or online, or listen to them on television or radio.
  • Jurors are supposed to remain objective and pay strict attention to the testimony.
  • If anyone tries to talk about the case, jurors must refuse to listen and report the incident to the judge.

Questioning a juror’s truthfulness is a viable defense strategy when appealing a conviction. If you think that the verdict in your case was tainted by a juror’s behavior, or if you have questions about how the law might apply to your situation, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Lexington, KY-based Carman Law Firm. As criminal defense attorneys with years of experience, we offer thorough, experienced representation. Call today at (859) 685-1055 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.