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What Happens If a Juror Says 'Guilty' in a Crowded Elevator?

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 25, 2018 11:40 AM

So many things seem to go wrong for criminal defendants on trial, especially when they point out the errors on appeal.

Sandra Bart made her case to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals after her conviction in United States of America v. Bart. Along with her claims of insufficient evidence, abuse of discretion and denial of motions, she complained of juror misconduct.

And why not blame the jury? One of the jurors apparently told others in the courthouse elevator that Bart was guilty.

Elevator Jury

Bart was tried and convicted on charges of conspiring to commit visa fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud in foreign labor contracting and related charges.

She filed motions to question jurors and for a new trial after learning about the elevator conversation. It happened after the all the evidence was in, but before the attorneys gave final arguments.

An assistant U.S. attorney in the case said he overheard a juror say "guilty" in the elevator, but did not hear the context. The judge listened to both sides and concluded nothing suggested the jurors considered improper evidence.

The judge denied Bart's motions, and she appealed.

Jury Misconduct

Citing United States v. Muhammad, the Eighth Circuit said judges have "broad discretion" whether to conduct evidentiary hearings regarding juror misconduct allegations.

In Muhammad's case, the defendant said a juror and her husband eavesdropped on his family's lunch conversation during the trial. The trial judge didn't believe it because the jury was in deliberations at the time.

In Bart's case, the appeals court said the trial court did not abuse its discretion. "Instead, it offered an appropriate curative instruction within its broad discretion," the appeals panel said.

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