Earlier this year a Florida judge had to declare a mistrial in a high-profile murder case after multiple members of the jury pool gossiped with each other about the defendant during breaks in the selection process. When this Florida judge began a new first-degree murder trial involving a different defendant, he gave each member of the jury pool an individual written order not to do any research about the defendant or talk to anyone about the capital case. To further emphasize the prohibition, the judge reminded the group before every break about the no-discussion rule.
Nonetheless, one member allegedly violated the judge's order. Outed by another member of the jury pool, Vishnu P. Singh admittedly Googled the defendant's name. However, Singh denied talking about the case with other members of the jury pool, as someone else told the judge he had, the newspaper article recounts. He explained to a local newspaper that he barely recalled receiving the written order and that he had not bothered to read it.
Clearly angry after learning of the violation of his order, the judge told Singh to leave a valid address with the bailiff and expect jail time for his transgression, presumably after being held in contempt of court.
Then, on the opposite shore, a Washington state judge has taken action because so many county residents feel free to ignore calls to appear for jury duty. The judge has issued them court summonses requiring them to come to court on Nov. 5 and explain their earlier absence. Of 240 individuals who received notices to show for service in September, about 100 failed to appear. Those who fail to appear for the Nov. 5TH hearing will get criminal court summonses, served by sheriff's officers. Ignoring jury service, as the court summonses points out, is a misdemeanor which can result in a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
As a trial lawyer, I have deep respect and appreciation for those who do serve on juries. It is such an incredibly important community service. And surveys indicate that most jury members report after the conclusion of the trial that they are glad that they had an opportunity to participate. But it is tremendously disruptive to the daily lives of those called, and often the whole process can be bewildering and boring. Recent innovations, such as allowing technology for illustrative exhibits and responding directly to questions from a jury member, are improving the experience for jury members – but they do have to show up and obey the judge's orders.
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