Improper Intrusions Into Jury Deliberations

The Court doesn’t want to be faced with a hung jury. That is a jury that can’t come to a unanimous decision. The Court will often try to push the jury into reaching a verdict. The Court has to be very careful about how far it can go.

In the recent unpublished case (an unpublished case is instructive, but not citable as persuasive authority), People v. Moreno, the California Appellate Court held that the judge had gone to far.

In Moreno, the defendant was charged with a number of offenses including a couple of gang enhancements (increased punishment because the crime was supposedly done to benefit the gang). During the jury’s deliberations they informed the court that they were deadlocked 10-2 for guilt. The Court extensively questioned the jury members and found initially that they were all participating in the deliberations. The Court of Appeal said the inquiry should have stopped there.  Instead, the Court asked additional questions and allowed the prosecutor to question the jurors. It is well established that allowing the lawyers to inquire of the jurors is a disfavored practice.

Through the additional interrogation of the jurors the Court learned that one of not guilty jurors told the other members of the jury that she grew up in a gang neighborhood and had a relative who were in a gang. During questioning the jurors also revealed that the not guilty jurors couldn’t be persuaded because they believed that one of the witnesses lied. That is a completely valid reason for a not guilty vote.

The judge kicked the juror who had the gang relative off the jury and replaced her because the prosecutor said he had asked her about knowing gang members and she had said she didn’t know any. A review of the record in the Appellate Court showed that while the prosecutor had asked that question of other jurors, he had not asked that of the juror who was kicked off.

In any event, the Court of Appeal said the judge was wrong because he inquired further into the deliberative process than asking if all the jurors were deliberating. If you think the judge went to far or you have a case that you think should go to trial you need a lawyer who knows the law of juries. Call me at 213-893-8640.


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