Juror Replacement Leads to Robbery Conviction Reverasl
- January 16, 2014
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In State v. Musa, Humfrey A. Musa was convicted of second degree robbery after jury deliberations. The defendant appealed the conviction based on substitution of Juror #2 after the first full day of deliberations. At the close of the first day of deliberations, the judge was provided a note from the jury including the jury’s inquiry as to whether a juror could be excused. The judge indicated that, barring emergency in the form of illness or other special circumstances, jurors would not be excused. On the following day, Juror #2 failed to appear, provided no notice and the court placed telephone calls to the juror and left messages at her home requesting contact, as well as making efforts to contact her at the work number listed only to find she was not employed where claimed, but ultimately did not locate the missing juror. Defense counsel requested that the judge inquire of the remaining jurors whether Juror #2 was the one referenced in their note the previous day regarding substitution as a result of non-cooperation. The prosecution argued that the judges answer to the jurors question as to whether a substitution was permissible was adequate. By 11:00 a.m. the court determined they would move forward with an alternate juror replacing Juror #2. On the second day of deliberations, the judge recharged the jury and in only 3 hours the defendant was found guilty by the jury with the replaced member. On appeal, the NJ Appellate Court questioned the reason Juror #2 failed to return and the relatively rapid decision by the jury following the substitution of the alternate. The Appellate Court reasoned that, based the previous day’s inquiry regarding dismissal of a juror and the rapid decision the following day, that Juror #2 had differences with the remaining jurors as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant and that the court failed to make adequate inquiry into that matter. Although there substitutions for certain reasons are permissible, in State v. Jenkins, 182 N.J. 112, 124 (2004) the court held that substitution is specifically prohibited when requested due to difficulty with other jurors during deliberations. The trial judge made adequate efforts to contact the juror but failed to make adequate efforts to determine the basis of the initial jury inquiry relative to substitution. State v. Hightower, 146 N.J. 239, 253 (1996) established that “any conduct that could upset the process of jury deliberations, even judicial conduct such as juror substitution, must be carefully scrutinized.” Based on the lack of record as to why Juror #2 did not return the second day, the there was not adequate information upon which to review the matter of the substitution and any prejudicial effect on the defendant and the Appellate Court reversed the decision and remanded for a new trial. Robbery is a very serious charge bearing heavy consequences. If you are charged with robbery it is critical you obtain experienced criminal defense counsel immediately to review evidence, the prosecutions case and insure the trial process is undertaken in the spirit of justice without breach of your rights. For more information regarding robbery, theft, burglary or other 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.