Fort Lauderdale Juror Misconduct Might Result in New Trial

leifertlaw September 25, 2012 Criminal Defense

Experienced South Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers

A new trial may be on the way for a Fort Lauderdale teenager convicted of aggravated battery for his role in allegedly setting an acquaintance on fire.

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand that allegations of juror misconduct has put the teen’s sentencing on hold, with the Broward Circuit judge expected to hold a hearing in mid-October on a defense motion for a new trial.

According to the defense, the jurors who convicted the teen, now 18, began discussing the case and deliberating it before closing arguments had been completed and before the judge had turned the case over to them. It has been alleged that a decision was reached prior to the formal deliberations, which would be a violation of the oath the jury took.

The teen, who was 15 at the time of the attack, faces a maximum sentence of 15 years if convicted. He has been behind bars for the last three years. Prosecutors have painted him as the primary aggressor in the attack, though several other teens were implicated. The case gained national media attention, with the victim suffering severe burns and lasting brain damage.

Both the prosecutor and the judge indicated that the defense attorneys’ allegations couldn’t be fully explored without calling the jurors to testify on the stand, something that is likely to happen before the judge makes a final decision on the matter.

You typically aren’t going to see such issues crop up except in serious cases. That’s because the majority of criminal cases are resolved with a plea deal in the first place. It’s also rare that a defendant would be granted a new trial on the basis of juror misconduct – but it does happen. In fact, there is some evidence that it’s happening more frequently since the advent of social media.

In other cases, misconduct takes a more traditional form. For example, there is the ongoing case of the polo tycoon who was recently convicted for DUI manslaughter. His attorneys have now alleged that one juror committed misconduct by going home and drinking the exact number of alcoholic beverages it was alleged the defendant had prior to getting behind the wheel. The juror later wrote about his at-home experiment.

Other cases have been called into question when jurors have been caught communicating about the case on social media outlets while the matter is ongoing and before a decision has been rendered.

What makes juror misconduct so difficult to prove is that, for one thing, juror deliberations are secret. That means that there is only a limited amount of inquiry that is permissible regarding what happened in that room. Further, misconduct is often not discovered until after a verdict has been decided. That makes remedying the situation difficult.

If juror misconduct is proven, typically the only way to resolve it is to have another trial with a jury that is not tainted.

Other examples of juror misconduct include:

A juror who is using information not presented at trial to reach a conclusion. This could be anything from reading news reports on the case to conducting their own research to discussing the case in depth prior to deliberations.

Concealment of material information during voir dire. This involves either lying or omitting important information to the attorneys or judges when they are vetting potential jurors. In some cases, the judge may rule that the concealment of certain information was inconsequential, but it could also prove damaging to the case; it just depends on the circumstances.

The fact that potential juror misconduct could have such a fundamental impact on the outcome of the case, makes it crucial for defendants to choose an attorney who is skilled and experienced enough to recognize it and aggressive enough to act on it.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Jury misconduct alleged in Michael Brewer burning case, Sept. 18, 2012, By Rafael Omeda, Sun Sentinel

More Blog Entries:
U.S. v. Davis Illustrates Need for Experienced Florida Defense Lawyer, Aug. 8, 2012, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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