When Jurors Go Bad
The big news in Chicago this morning-- the big news in Chicago for the past six weeks, actually-- is the story of the push by former Gov. George Ryan's attorneys to seek a new trial for their client based upon jury misconduct during this corruption trial earlier this year. I have seen plenty of defense attorneys argue plenty of post-trial motions based upon jury problems, real or perceived. But I don't think I have ever seen the level of chaos that this surrounded this jury. The former governor, convicted of all 18 charges against him, has a better-than-average chance to get a new trial if even some of the allegations against jurors are true.
This may not happen before the federal, trial udge, who already is on record as saying she doesn't believe the juror misconduct was serious enough to force another marathon trial. But surely the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is in a prime position to send a signal that, at a minimum, when someone's liberty is on the line, deliberating jurors cannot look stuff up online and then openly use that knowledge to persuade others to vote their way. That's what happened inside the jury room during Ryan's trial, which ended in mid-April after six gruelling months of testimony.
Juror access to the Internet during a trial is a growing and obvious problem. Logging onto a computer at the end of the day, or in the morning, has become as routine as turning on the television. And relevant material-- about a trial, about the law, about a defendant, about anything else a juror may become curious about during a trial-- is essentially a click away. For some jurors, clearly, the temptation has become too much. When it comes to information, we live now in an instant-gratification, Googlized world. And it is causing huge headaches for those who have a stake in the criminal justice system.
In the just-completed trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, for example, one juror looked up online the definition of the word "aggravating"-- as in "aggravating" sentencing factors. In that case, since the defendant already had pleaded guilty, the federal judge declared that the juror's mistake was not so fundamental to the rest of the case that it warranted either dismissal of the juror or a new sentencing trial. In the Ryan case, the offending juror looked up a definition of "good faith" deliberations, apparentely trying to convince a "holdout" juror that she was not deliberating in good faith.
Since the holdout (and another juror) ultimately were dismissed from the panel and replaced (for unrelated reasons, which also cause concerns), U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled initially no-harm, no-foul. But now Ryan's lawyers are back, demanding a new investigating by Pallmeyer into allegations that there was so much pressure put to bear on the holdout, and so many other jurors either lied in their jury questionnaire forms or otherwise didn't follow instructions, that the whole process needs to be redone. Do yourself a favor. Click on those links above and read the details of what went on inside that jury room. And then ask yourself if you would want those folks to sit in judgment upon you, or anyone in your family.
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