In A Murder Trial, Does Replacing A Juror Deprive Defendant Of A Fair Trial?
- March 19, 2014
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Michael Ross II was charged with first degree murder of 2 men (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1), (2)); second degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a)); third degree unlawful possession of a weapon (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b)); and third degree hindering apprehension or prosecution (N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(1)). The matter was tried and the jury was sent for deliberations. After 6 full days of deliberations together, weighing the evidence presented at trial, the jurors sent out a note indicating they were deadlocked. Middlesex County Superior Court Judge James Mulvihill provided the jury with further instructions and ordered them to continue with deliberations. In roughly one hour’s time, a juror indicated she was too ill to continue and the jurors were dismissed for the day. The following day, the juror again indicated she was too ill to participate and the judge spoke with her directly to verify that she was truly too ill to appear for further deliberations. Rather than waiting to see if the juror would be able to return, the judge replaced her. After four more days of deliberations, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts. Defendant appealed the matter of State v. Ross and the NJ Appellate Division reversed the conviction, determining the “jury had proceeded too far to expect the newly seated juror to be a full and equal participant in deliberations.” In making their decision, the Appellate Division reconsidered State v. Banks, 395 N.J. Super. 205 (App.Div. 2007) and State v. Czachor, 82 N.J. 392 (1980) which addressed the replacement of jurors following deliberations and deadlock. The NJ Supreme Court took State v. Ross on the prosecution’s appeal. The NJ Supreme Court justices addressed the proximity of the jurors notice of illness to the jury’s indication of deadlock, the amount of time which elapsed from the substitution of the new juror to the arrival at the guilty verdicts and the extent to which the Judge went to ascertain the original juror’s ability to appear in court for further deliberations. The defendant’s attorney attempted to persuade the court that juror replacement should be barred following notice of a deadlock in order to protect the integrity of jury deliberations. No final decision has been reached in this matter but for those facing serious criminal charges and substantial deprivation of liberty, the result on future trials could prove substantial. For more information about murder, weapons possession, hindering or other serious criminal charges in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.