JURY NOT DISQUALIFIED DESPITE MISCONDUCT

In Commonwealth v. Roman in affirming the defendant’s conviction of first-degree murder and a related offense, the SJC rejected his request that the Court invoke its  statutory powers and conclude that the trial judge should have declared a mistrial sua sponte with respect to alleged jury tampering.  During the trial, it  was  revealed that on the seventh day of trial that three of the jurors had been exposed to “troublesome conduct” outside of the courtroom by members of the victim’s family. The judge conducted an individual voir dire of the jury, in order to determine whether any prejudice to the defense had resulted from the experiences of the three jurors. The most serious of the incident was when the alleged victim’s aunt made remarks about the jurors in the hallway but  stopped  when she saw a  juror approaching.   That same  juror  saw  the aunt look at  a group of jurors in the parking lot and then spit on the ground.  The juror notified the court  that it  could remain fair  and impartial.  The judge then excluded the victim’s aunt and his mother (the subject of another juror’s revelation) from the court room for the remainder of the trial.

On appeal, the SJC concluded that in these circumstances, the judge was not required to declare a mistrial. The Court stated (1) that in response to the revelations regarding a potential, extraneous influence on the jury, the judge had followed the correct procedure; (2) that experienced trial counsel had voiced no objection to the judge’s handling of the matter; and (3) that the defendant had failed to demonstrate any ‘solid evidence of a distinct bias.

 

 

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