Suppose a juror falls ill during the second day of deliberations following a two-week trial and is unable to continue her service. What are the trial court’s options?
A. Replace the juror with an alternate juror.
B. Declare a mistrial.
C. Either A or B, in the trial court’s discretion.
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Ramos v. Louisiana, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last Monday and summarized here, holds that the Sixth Amendment impartial jury guarantee gives defendants a right to a unanimous jury verdict in state trials. The case is making waves for reasons tangential to the dispute between the parties: in a dizzyingly split opinion, the justices argue more over the meaning of stare decisis (the court’s obligation to follow its prior holdings) than whether defendants in state courts may be convicted by a less-than-unanimous jury. This aspect of the opinion has been widely discussed (see analysis here, here, here, and here), and foreshadows the justices’ likely battle over an upcoming reproductive rights case. Since the divergent perspectives on stare decisis have been covered elsewhere, I will consider another issue that split the justices: the legal relevance of the nonunanimous jury law’s Jim Crow origins.
First, a pop quiz
Did North Carolina ever allow non unanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials? Read on for the answer. Continue reading →
Earlier this week, the students and I spent the afternoon at Central Criminal Court in London, formerly called the Old Bailey and located at the intersection of Old Bailey and Newgate streets in the heart of London’s law district. I can guarantee that this post will not be as captivating as Rumpole of the Bailey, the British television series about fictional barrister Horace Rumpole. But, like most trips to court, it was certainly interesting. Continue reading →
Shortly after I published last week’s post on State v. Babich, an astute reader asked about the court’s harmless error analysis. How, he inquired, could the improper admission of expert testimony that the defendant had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 be harmless error? Did the jury’s verdict indicate that it found the defendant guilty only under the “under the influence” prong of impairment rather than under the “alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more” prong? To answer these questions, I had to dig into the record on appeal and provide a bit of background on the requirement for jury unanimity in DWI cases. I thought others might be interested in my response.
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Summer is here and everyone is feeling excited about fair cross-section claims. Or at least I am after hearing an enlightening presentation about them, described below. Continue reading →