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When does juror misconduct nullify a guilty verdict? Ask the lawyer

Q: Two questions: In the Ghislaine Maxwell trial, she was found guilty of almost all the charges, but now there is information suggesting possible juror misconduct so the verdict might not stand. First question: What kind of juror misconduct will cause a guilty verdict to be thrown out?

D.C., Santa Ana

Ron Sokol

A: There are times when a juror engages in inappropriate or illegal activity that compromises the defendant’s right to a fair trial. If so, that behavior is referred to as jury misconduct. In a criminal case here in California, jury misconduct can be: (a) speaking to others about the case who are not on the jury; (b) refusing to deliberate; (c) conducting an independent, unauthorized investigation about the facts of the case, (d) speaking to a fellow juror about the case, other than when the full jury is together and involved in an official session, and/or (e) concealing personal beliefs and/or experiences that may influence otherwise impartial deliberation.

The critical question for the court is whether the misconduct causes “incurable prejudice.”

A verdict against a defendant will be set aside when “the court finds a substantial likelihood that the vote of one or more jurors was influenced by exposure to prejudicial matter relating to the defendant or to the case itself that was not part of the trial record on which the case was submitted to the jury.”

Q: My second question: If jury misconduct is found, then what?

D.C., Santa Ana

A: The answer to your second question turns in part on when the jury misconduct is found. The judge has options: (a) discharge the subject juror and replace him or her with an alternate juror, or if none is available, then proceed with an 11-member panel, if approved by the parties; (b) discharge the entire panel, (c) declare a mistrial, which signifies either dismissal of the charges or a retrial of the case; or (d) admonish the jury about the misconduct and proceed forward.

Q: I am called for jury duty. Please explain “voir dire.”

F.L., Lawndale

A: Voir dire is French for “speak the truth.” It is the process by which the lawyers for both sides question the jury panel. The questioning typically is subject to certain conditions set by the court. The objective of the questioning is to help decide who will be selected to serve on the jury panel, and who will be challenged or excused for satisfactory reason.

Ron Sokol has been a practicing attorney for over 35 years, and has also served many times as a judge pro tem, mediator, and arbitrator. It is important to keep in mind that this column presents a summary of the law, and is not to be treated or considered legal advice, let alone a substitute for actual consultation with a qualified professional.

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Source: Orange County Register

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