In The News

In The News

Monday, March 6, 2017

When Juror Misconduct Needs to Be Investigated: We've Been There

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Michael J. Nichols

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that juror misconduct must be investigated despite the cloak of secrecy that shrouds juror deliberations. In the case "Rodriguez v Colorado," the Court held that when there are allegations of racial or ethnic bias, the trial judge should investigate to determine if the right a fair trial under the 6th Amendment of the Constitution was violated.

In this compelling case, the accused was convicted of 3 misdemeanor counts for allegedly attempting to grope 2 females. 1 of the jurors, identified in the pleadings as "HC" made 2 racially-charged statements during deliberations:

1. that he believed the accused was guilty of the groping because "Mexicans always think that they can get what they want." The 2nd comment was about the alibi witness, stating that he was not credible because "he's an illegal."

An alibi witness is a witness who places the accused at a location other than the scene of a crime at the time the crime occurred.

Mr. Rodriguez was convicted but maintains his innocence. His lawyers secured affidavits from jurors, who indicated under oath that the juror made the racist remarks and refused to acquit. The appellate battle was framed over the need to maintain secrecy in jury deliberations versus the right to a trial by a jury free of racial bias. Dissenting Justice Alito stated that the Court's decision may have been well-intentioned, but "It seeks to remedy a flaw in the jury trial system, but as this court said some years ago, it is questionable whether our system of trial by jury can endure this attempt to perfect it.”

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, established the standard for conducting an investigation into juror deliberations: “For the inquiry to proceed, there must be a showing that one or more jurors made statements exhibiting overt racial bias that cast serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the jury’s deliberations and resulting verdict.”

The idea is that jurors must feel secure in the knowledge that the state of their deliberations, statements made in those deliberations and the basis for any verdict is inviolate in order to foster free debate.

Mike Nichols says that he recently had to challenge a juror for making a statement outside the courtroom following jury selection but before trial: "we had to file a motion and attach an affidavit from this juror's co-worker about the statements. The statements amounted to the fact that the juror believed the judge already advised that the accused was guilty but they still had to sit and listen to his lawyer (me)." Nichols adds, "the judge denied our motion and surprisingly did not excuse the juror - but for other reasons the trial was called off." Courts often find themselves wrestling with the imperfections of the jury system.

The 5-3 majority opinion in Rodriguez, case number 15-606 was issued on Monday, March 6, 2017.

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Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.