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Advice to NJ Jurors: Don't Talk on the Elevator

March 10, 2010

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In a recent criminal trial in New Jersey, Police Officer Fine testified on behalf of the State. After he concluded his testimony -- and right before closing arguments -- the officer encountered one of the jurors on the courthouse elevator. The juror told the officer "you did fine." He then added “the defense lawyer was kind of crazy" (according to the juror) or "defense attorneys can be a__holes" (according to the officer).

The jury convicted the defendant of cocaine possession shortly thereafter. At some point during deliberations, the police officer reported his conversation to the prosecutor, who then reported this to the judge. The judge conducted a hearing on the issue, and determined the juror exhibited a bias he did not reveal during voir dire, and further, failed to follow the court's instructions to refrain from forming any opinions or reaching any judgment about the evidence until after the case had concluded and the jury had been charged on the law. The Court declared a mistrial, vacated the conviction, and granted the defendant a new trial. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision, agreeing that the juror improperly failed to disclose his prejudicial views during <i>voir dire</i>.

Typically, jurors say whatever they can during <i>voir dire</i> in an effort to get excused from a jury. It seems like this juror had a big mouth but bad timing.

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