This question has come before the U.S. Supreme Court. Previous rulings have made clear that one can’t (generally) use post-trial claims about what happened during deliberation to overturn verdicts, lest it chill the deliberations themselves. After all, the point of private jury deliberations is to keep them…private.
But what if during deliberation one of the jurors said something that made it plan that she lied during the voir dire period–that pre-trial phase where attorneys question the jurors to detect any undue bias?
That’s the question before the court, and the New York Times has a great article by their regular Supreme Court (and jury) reporter, Adam Liptak. In defense of juror privacy, Liptak points to words from former justice Sandra Day O’Connor:
“A barrage of post-verdict scrutiny of juror conduct,” she wrote, would undermine candid discussions during deliberations. It would make it harder for jurors to take unpopular positions. It could subject former jurors to harassment. It could undermine the finality of verdicts, allowing challenges months or years later.
Yet in this case, Liptak reaches this conclusion:
It is hard to reconcile the two versions of what went on in a South Dakota jury room years ago. But the court system has ways of establishing the truth. Mr. Titus, Ms. Whipple and the other jurors could be called back to court and questioned under oath.
How does he reach that conclusion? You’ll have to read the article to find out.
The jury system is blossoming in Argentina. An article from May’s Buenos Aires Herald gives one a sense for how juries are being used. In most respects, the system being adopted resembles that being used in the U.S. Consider, for instance, this bit about voir dire (jury selection):
Before each case, 48 potential jurors will be called and they will hold a meeting with the parties, including the judge, the prosecutor and the defence lawyers. They will be asked several questions to try to determine whether they are impartial or if they are directly or indirectly linked to the case. Then only twelve will be selected to sit on the jury. Members of the government and of security forces or those who work for prisons are forbidden from taking part. Lawyers and public notaries are also exempt, as is anyone convicted of an intentional crime or anyone indicted for a criminal offence. The exemptions also apply to religious and political leaders.
Note that the article has one goof; unanimity is required for juries in capital cases. That correction comes from Andres Harfuch, who has championed the jury system in Argentina.
Most of the first-hand accounts thus far are in Spanish. Reading GoogleTranslate versions thereof get the gist across, however. One area of law where juries have arrived concerns taxes. A recent article on special jury trials from the Ministerio Publico Fiscal suggested that jurors will need (again, translated) “A simpler language, greater use of images, another form of questioning, much attention in the instructions.” The bottom line is that the jury constitutes a new and legitimate form of public authority in Argentina. In the mangled translation, that comes out as “a certainty: what is resolved represents the will of the people.” Sounds almost like haiku.
It’s not often that a newspaper runs a story that debunks common misconceptions about jury duty, so I single out a good example of such reporting that comes from the Richmond Register. The author makes jury duty sound much less intimidating than people imagine it to be, but she devotes the most attention to telling prospective jurors that they are not exempt even if they think they are.
The last detail is my favorite, and I excerpt it here:
Your boss can go to jail if he threatens and/or fires you over having to serve jury duty.
TRUE …For example, a person who works at night cannot still be required to pull a night shift even while serving on a jury during the day…Under Kentucky law, if an employer threatens employees with termination or actually fires them because they are absent for jury duty, the workers can file a civil lawsuit for lost wages against the employer…Also, if an employee is fired for serving on a jury, the employer can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $250 (up to $5,000 for corporations) and/or a jail sentence not exceeding 90 days.