Juror misconduct is one of the biggest problems facing the court today, whether the jury is seated in a criminal court hearing a murder case or in a civil court hearing a personal injury case. But what exactly is juror misconduct? How can you recognize it if it happens to you? What can you do about it? This is what you should know.
What is juror misconduct?
Juror misconduct can take many different forms and be overt or hidden:
- outright lying when asked, "Can you be fair in a case like this?"
- making racist statements against a defendant, plaintiff, or witness during deliberations
- looking up information online that wasn't introduced in the court through proper procedural means
- discussing the case among themselves prior to deliberations
- discussing the case with friends or family
- soliciting the opinions of others about the case
- "friending" the defendant or plaintiff on Facebook or other social media
- digging through social media accounts to look up information on the plaintiff or defendant
- doing his or her own research into a subject that is part of the trial or on something over which an expert witness was called to testify
- using drugs or alcohol while in court or during deliberations
- posting about the trial on Facebook or other social media
There's probably endless other ways for a juror to violate the acceptable code of conduct that's required in order to make sure that every case is heard fairly.
What can be done to stop it?
In some cases, judges will sequester juries—literally, hold them apart from their families and in a place where their contact with the outside world is limited and controlled in order to try to get a fair verdict. However, that's an expensive and difficult proposition and judges generally reserve that possibility for the most extreme situations, such as when there is a media frenzy over a case.
In most cases, juror misconduct is something that comes to light because another juror will blow the whistle on what's happening inside the jury room. At that point, the judge will usually question jurors either in a group or individually (or both) to see what sort of misconduct took place. If the misconduct is limited to the actions of one or two jurors, those jurors can be replaced—as long as their actions haven't spoiled the whole jury.
For example, if a juror admits privately to another that he or she doesn't trust an expert witness because the expert is Hispanic and the plaintiff is Hispanic and says that Hispanics "stick together," implying that the expert's testimony can't be trusted, that juror could probably be removed and replaced with an alternate, without having to declare a mistrial. On the other hand, if a juror went and looked up everything he or she could find out about the plaintiff and defendant online and told the rest of the jury about what was found, a judge might find the whole jury tainted and declare a mistrial.
What happens if jury misconduct comes to light after a trial?
It isn't uncommon for juror misconduct to come to light some time after a trial. When that happens, jurors can be hauled back into court and questioned about what happened during deliberations by the judge. If the judge determines that misconduct took place, the verdict can be thrown out and the trial may have to start all over again.
For example, the $2 million verdict in a Milwaukee civil trial involving police misconduct is currently in jeopardy after attorneys for the defense found that one of the jurors had posted about the trial on his Facebook page and reposted something by a known anti-police activist. If found to be true, the judge may have no choice but to overturn the verdict and declare a mistrial.
For more information on how personal injury law works or to discuss your case, contact an attorney in your area today.