Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bailiff Training May Need Evaluation to Avoid Mistrials

Earlier this year a judge in my judicial district declared a mistrial in a felony domestic assault case when a bailiff in charge of the jury during deliberations met the need of the jury but caused the mistrial.  The jury foreperson requested a dictionary and, being persistent, pressed the bailiff for help...to which the bailiff handed the foreperson an electronic dictionary to look up a legal term in the jury instructions.  The judge determined that under Remmer v. U.S., 347 U.S. 227 (1954) this communication was presumptively prejudicial. 
But wait! That is not all.  Then the judge was informed by jurors that overnight a fellow juror had called a friend of his who is a police officer to discuss the definition of assault. Hence, a mistrial and a substantial waste of public resources, juror inconvenience, and defendant and victim stress.  These incidents are symptomatic of many jurors desire for "information on demand."
Not only jurors, but bailiffs, need education on the admonitions against use of social media and the Internet during trial.

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