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No Mistrial: Eleventh Cir. Upholds Liberty City Seven Convictions

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 03, 2011 4:05 PM

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of five men accused of working with al-Qaida to bomb the Sears Tower this week, rejecting their appeal that the judge in the case should have declared a mistrial.

Five of the “Liberty City Seven” were convicted in a 2009 Florida trial after two prior mistrials. The U.S. Attorney’s office had indicated that it would not prosecute the men a fourth time if the third trial also ended in a mistrial, reports The Miami Herald.

The five appellants appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals for a new trial, claiming that U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard erred in removing a juror, known as Juror No. 4, who refused to deliberate. Juror No. 4 was replaced with an alternate juror after the other jurors complained to the judge.

According to the jury foreperson, Juror No. 4 made up her mind about the trial before deliberations began, and her conclusions were based on "internal beliefs and feelings" rather than the evidence. The foreperson requested that Juror No. 4 be replaced.

Juror No. 4 sent a note to the judge as well, indicating that her comments about the law had been misinterpreted, and she wanted to continue with the trial.

The fellow jurors reported to the judge the following week that the juror had explicitly stated "I don't believe in the law," and "I don't trust the law." Again, the foreperson pleaded for Juror No. 4's removal. After questioning all of the jurors about the deliberation process, and discussing the process at length with Juror No. 4, Judge Lenard replaced Juror No. 4 with an alternate juror.

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 23(b) permits a district court "to excuse a juror for just cause after the jury has retired to consider its verdict." A juror's refusal to apply the law or follow court instructions qualifies as "just cause." A juror should be excused only when no 'substantial possibility' exists that she is basing her decision on the sufficiency of the evidence.

Based on these criteria, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Judge Lenard acted within her discretion in replacing Juror #4 with an alternate juror, rather than declaring a mistrial.

Have you run into a similar situation with a reluctant juror? Do you think Judge Lenard's decision to replace the juror was influenced by the U.S. Attorney's unwillingness to prosecute the Liberty City Seven a fourth time?

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