Can A Judge Dismiss A Juror In The Middle Of Deliberations?
One of the most basic principles of American legal system is that a jury must reach a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant accused of a crime. Jurors are expected to be impartial and determine the facts based on the law, as instructed by the judge. While a judge may dismiss a juror once a trial has begun if they cannot render impartial service, the court should never remove a juror simply to guarantee a guilty verdict. Put another way, if a lone juror is “holding out” due to a good-faith belief in the defendant’s innocence, it is not the judge’s role to step in and replace that juror with one more disposed towards a conviction.
11th Circuit: Juror’s Belief in the “Holy Ghost” Did Not Compromise Ability to Serve
The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an important decision regarding the scope of a judge’s authority to remove a juror after deliberations have begun. The case, United States v. Brown, involved a former member of Congress charged with multiple federal crimes. The case was tried before a jury in Jacksonville in 2017.
During the second day of jury deliberations, one of the jurors (Juror #8) notified the court to “express concerns” that a fellow juror was “talking about higher beings.” Juror #8 later identified this juror as Juror #13. Juror #8 said Juror #13 told the jurors during deliberations that the “Holy Ghost” had told her the defendant “was not guilty on all charges.”
The judge then questioned Juror #13, who said that he had “prayed for and received divine guidance” regarding the case. At the same time, Juror #13 insisted there was no conflict between his religious beliefs and the judge’s instructions to follow the law in rendering a verdict. The judge was not satisfied with this explanation and decided to dismiss the juror. Juror #13 was thus replaced by an alternate juror, the jury restarted its deliberations from the beginning, and ultimately found the defendant guilty on several counts.
The defendant moved for a new trial due to the judge’s decision to dismiss the juror. The judge denied the motion. The defendant then appealed to the 11th Circuit. A three-judge panel affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The full 11th Circuit then agreed to rehear the case en banc, and a majority decided to reverse the convictions and order a new trial.
Chief Judge William Pryor, writing for the majority, said the trial court misconstrued Juror #13’s statements as meaning he “received information” from an outside source–God–that improperly tainted his impartiality as a juror. Judge Pryor instead said the juror’s use of “vivid and direct religious language” suggested he was “doing nothing more than praying for and receiving divine guidance as he evaluated the evidence or, in secular terms, provided an explanation of his internal mental processes—all consistent with proper jury service.”
More to the point, the evidence did not “unambiguously” show that Juror #13 engaged in any misconduct that warranted dismissal after deliberations had already begun. As such, the trial judge’s decision to replace Juror #13 amounted to an “abuse of discretion” and violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury verdict.
Speak with a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Today
A jury trial is every criminal defendant’s basic right. An experienced Tampa criminal defense lawyer can assist you in protecting this and other important constitutional rights. Contact the Faulkner Law Group, PLLC, today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.