Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Friday, March 16, 2012

Juror punished for doing his job

Our American jury system depends on jurors being able to reason on their own, but sometimes petty judges don't like it when a juror actually does think independently. Law.com reports:
In the first known New Jersey case of a juror punished for doing his own internet research, a Bergen County judge has imposed a $500 criminal contempt sanction on a jury foreman whose actions led to a mistrial.

Assignment Judge Peter Doyne found Daniel Kaminsky violated repeated instructions not to do independent research and that what he learned about the sentence for the crime, which he considered unjust, might have motivated his "not guilty" vote, leaving the jury hung. ...

A juror who does his own research "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," he wrote, adding there is no reliable way to be sure the information gleaned online is accurate or relevant. ...

Though Doyne found Kaminsky to be a "sincere, conscientious person" who mistakenly "sought to fulfill his duty as jury foreman and lead the jury to a proper verdict," his conduct could not be allowed because of the need to ensure obedience to the court, maintain its dignity and promote fairness, justice and due process.
Juror Kaminsky should be commended for doing his civic duty, and no one should ever be punished for looking up laws on the internet. It is the judge who is confused about the "rules of evidence". The statute about the maximum sentence is not evidence. If a juror had a question about the law, then he should have been allowed to ask it in court and get an answer. The judge created this problem by refusing to answer obvious questions.

Lots of crimes have misdemeanor and felony versions. The big difference is that the felony has a much stiffer sentence. I don't know how a jury could ever decide the difference, unless they have some idea of the sentencing difference.

Most of the time, the jurors don't need to be bothered with sentencing. But there are some crimes with bizarrely long sentences, and jurors need to know whether the criminal charge is so serious that it gets a long prison sentence.

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