Hello welcome to this JACPA Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent media reports about a New Jersey juror who was held in contempt and fined by a trial judge for conducting research on sentencing during a criminal case and then voting to find the defendant not guilty, which resulted in a mistrial.
According to the recent media reports (including the ABA Journal online and the Cliffview Pilot online), a New Jersey judge presiding over a criminal case in which the defendant had been charged with selling 1,500 Ecstasy pills to an undercover officer reminded jurors daily and before each break not to conduct Internet research about the case; however, the foreman of the jury apparently ignored the judge’s instructions.
The juror apparently determined through his online research that the defendant would receive a minimum of 10 years in prison if found guilty of selling the 1,500 Ecstasy pills. He subsequently voted to find the defendant not guilty and, as a result of the juror’s vote, the jury deadlocked and a mistrial was declared. An alternate juror who lived next to another judge mentioned her concern about the research and another juror contacted the county prosecutor’s office to report it.
The trial judge recently found juror guilty of criminal contempt and fined him $500.00 and said that he did not impose the maximum penalties of six months in jail and a $1,000.00 fine for the willful violation because the juror is a father of three and recently lost his job. The judge stated that he believed that some significant punishment was necessary to deter others from potentially doing the same thing and that should not be unreasonable to expect jurors to follow instructions about abstaining from Internet research.
According to the reports, the judge stated that he “understands instant access to seemingly endless amounts of information is a reality of today’s world. And this fact, by and large, should be celebrated…(however), this court rejects the notion the American courtroom, with its constraints and controls developed over the centuries, with its methodical and deliberate means of proceeding, is somehow incompatible with or outdated in today’s world of high-speed information on demand. Indeed, the proliferation of electronic information renders the sterilized atmosphere of a courtroom even more important.
“When a juror conducts independent research, he bypasses the rules of evidence and allows the information to evade the judge’s scrutiny, thereby running the risk he is considering improper information and, consequently, reducing the chances of a just verdict.” “Our system of justice cannot function if a juror’s distrust of, or lack of confidence in, the court legitimized his disobedience of its orders or if a judge’s instructions were deemed merely ‘advisory,’ with jurors free to violate them when they saw fit, even if in good conscience…jurors are not at liberty to disregard the court’s instructions, even when they fear obedience would somehow result in injustice.”
Bottom line: Although not directly related to lawyer ethics, as all lawyers know (specifically trial lawyers), the potential that jurors may secretly access the instant information available on the Internet is an important emerging issue which may (and clearly did in this case) negatively fairness of trials and the integrity of our judicial system. Quite frankly, to me it is also just a little bit scary…
…be careful out there!
| As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
THE LAW OFFICE OF JOSEPH A. CORSMEIER, P.A.
PROVIDES ETHICS ADVICE AND EXPERT OPINIONS TO LAWYERS AND LAW FIRMS
DEFENDS LAWYERS IN BAR MISSION AND DISCIPLINE CASES
(AND MUCH MORE!)
My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms. If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license.
If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at email@example.com. You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida. I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.
Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
NOTICE OF CONFIDENTIALITY: This electronic communication and the information contained herein is legally privileged and confidential proprietary information intended only for the individual and/or entity to whom it is addressed pursuant to the American Bar Association Formal Opinion No. 99-413, dated March 10, 1999 and all other applicable laws and rules. If you receive this transmission in error, you are advised that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or the taking of any action in reliance upon the communication is strictly prohibited. Any unauthorized use, distribution, or disclosure of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this in error, please notify us immediately by return e-mail at the above telephone number and then delete message entirely from your system. Thank you for your cooperation.