Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Misconduct is Too Inconsequential for Jurors

The occurrence of juror misconduct can range widely from hidden bias to unauthorized internet postings. It can be trivial to the outcome or derail the whole trial. For procedural reasons alone, juror misconduct is troublesome. It lengthens the necessary time in court through delays, appeals, and, in some case, retrials. This adds cost and impairs the efficient operation of the court system. But, juror misconduct is poised to damage the parties to the case in even more significant ways.

A Case Study
Numerous cases could be presented as evidence of the potential harm jurors can cause; however, delving into the details of a singular instance may drive the point home better. In July 2012, former Oklahoma State basketball player Darrell Williams was convicted on two counts of rape by instrumentation and one count of sexual battery. The resulting verdict required him to register as a sex offender, but he would be let out of prison on a one-year suspended sentence with credit for time served. Almost two years later, Williams’ conviction was reversed by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals because two of the twelve jurors, independently, took it upon themselves to visit the scene where the crime was alleged to have taken place. Williams was alleged to have committed the crimes at a college house party one night in late 2010. Both jurors testified in the appeals process that their visits had been to inspect the lighting around the house to see if the argument presented by Williams’ defense attorneys that he had been misidentified was possible. Not only did these two jurors make these impermissible trips, they proceeded to discuss their perceived findings in deliberations.

Impact of Misconduct
No matter what perspective is taken, the action of these jurors created an injustice. Either a guilty Williams was exonerated for avoidable error, leaving two victims without the assurance that their attacker was punished, or an innocent Williams lost out on a basketball career, living nearly two years as a convicted sex offender for a crime he did not commit. Here, the system certainly failed someone because these two jurors chose not to follow the rules. With such a great impact on the case and the parties, one would wonder what the repercussions were for these jurors.

It is unclear from the available court records whether these particular jurors were punished for their wrongdoing. Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that any punishment potentially levied would be insignificant in stature to the harm caused. Juror misconduct is commonly subject to only a charge of contempt of court for disobeying the judges orders, which here in Texas entails a small fine and potential for a short prison sentence. (Tex. Gov't Code § 21.002) .Where the process and jury instructions alone are insufficient to dissuade jurors from taking up vigilante justice, how can one expect that a light slap on the wrist will serve this purpose much better? Such a penalty does not adequately serve any redeeming purpose. It does not dissuade future misconduct, nor rehabilitate the juror from their actions; and the punishment factor as stated may be light at best.

Therefore, it would seem reasonable that courts be given more freedom to enact punishments more consistent with the severity of the results of the action. Misbehaving jurors do not lose the time, and pay nowhere near the financial or personal costs associated with their misconduct. Judges need to be better equipped to minimize this problem because, as it stands now, juror misconduct is too inconsequential to the jurors.

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