Will Ghislaine Maxwell, who was convicted on December 29, 2021 on 5 counts in a sex-trafficking case in New York Federal Court, get a new trial due to alleged juror misconduct?
Yes. possibly, if….
Juror #50 failed to disclose or denied he was a victim of sexual abuse on the juror questionnaire.
Why does that matter?
A defendant has a right to a fair trial by unbiased, impartial jurors pursuant to the 6th Amendment of the US Constitution. Can a juror or jurors, as there are reportedly now 2 jurors, who were victims of sexual abuse be unbiased or impartial in a sexual abuse and trafficking case as the Maxwell trial? Probably not. If it amounts to prejudicial juror misconduct, a new trial for Maxwell may be granted.
But, that’s not my call.
It is Judge Nathan’s call to make upon an evidentiary hearing and upon consideration of the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing. Specifically, for example, how did the juror(s) answer the question on Maxwell juror questionnaire, “Have you, or a friend, or family member ever been the victim of sexual harassment, sexual abuse or sexual assault?” If the juror answered “No”, yet, disclosed sexual abuse in jury deliberation, as alleged by Maxwell’s defense, and reportedly stated by Juror #50, then, it is possibly actionable juror misconduct requiring a mistrial. A juror doesn’t get a pass because they “flew thru” the juror questionnaire, as stated and explained by Juror #50. Yet, untruthful responses on a questionnaire may not be enough for a mistrial. (See Warger v. Shauers 574 US 40 (2014).
When a juror fails to disclose or misstates information on a juror questionnaire, it deprives the attorney’s the opportunity to challenge/remove a juror or further question a juror to ferret out any potential bias that could render a juror lacking impartiality and thus, deny the defendant’s right to an impartial jury and a fair trial.
Keep in mind, it is an objective test not a subjective test. So, even though, a juror may claim their sexual abuse did not influence their verdict, the test is whether a reasonable juror with said experience could be unbiased and impartial.
And, if…. jurors considered evidence not admitted at trial.
If a juror(s) verdict is based upon evidence other than the evidence admitted at trial, a mistrial and a new trial may be warranted. Apparently, juror #50 has stated that he shared his sexual abuse with his fellow jurors during deliberations to assist them in their understanding of the victim’s testimony.
However, in federal court, there is a long-standing federal rule 606 (b) also known as the “no-impeachment rule” that generally prohibits impeachment of verdicts by juror testimony about their deliberations. Judges are usually not allowed to conduct any probing inquiry of jurors’ deliberations, conduct or their mental processes to determine how they achieved their verdict. (See also McDonald v. Pless, 238 US 264 (1914). Another words, juror affidavits, for example, attesting to misconduct in deliberations is usually inadmissible, unless the defendants right to a fair trial has been denied (i.e., racial bias by a juror revealed in deliberations, See Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado 580 US _(2017)).
Why? Courts want to protect privacy of deliberations & foster candor during deliberations without fear of decision/reasoning becoming public knowledge. Also, courts want to discourage post-trial harassment of jurors and not allow interference with the finality of litigation by encouraging losing litigants to tamper with verdicts.
No doubt, the defense will pursue all avenues for appeal including possible juror misconduct.
If you’d like more law on juror misconduct, please read my prior post on another case involving potential juror misconduct Scott Peterson Re-Trial Likely Says Legal Analyst.
Meanwhile, stay tuned, the defenses motion for a new trial is due January 19 and the prosecution’s reply is due February 2.
Simply my opinion, what say you?