Everyone accused of a crime has the right to a fair trial, and juror conduct is vital in protecting that right. However, if jurors engage in misconduct, the outcome of a trial will not be fair to either side. What is juror misconduct, and how can it influence the outcome of a trial?
Jurors who engage in “juror experiments” can be influenced by outside information.
To make their decision about a case, jurors must use only the information presented in the courtroom. However, if they investigate details of the case outside the courtroom, that information will almost certainly influence their decision. This can include outside opinions, outside evidence and even details of the defendant’s criminal history which cannot legally factor into the case.
This can bring even greater challenges in our increasingly digital society. Smart phones put a wealth of information at our fingertips, and many jurors may habitually seek out information when presented with a question.
Jurors’ family, their friends, the attorneys in the case and others can influence their decision.
Just as outside information can influence jurors, communication with people outside the courtroom can influence their decision about a case. Discussing the case with friends or family, for example, can involve speculation about the case and influence the juror’s opinion with their biases and outside research. Likewise, speaking to the attorneys arguing the case, the trial audience and even other jurors outside the courtroom could influence their decision unfairly.
Jurors who conceal information that is relevant to the case make biased decisions.
Every person’s experience informs the decisions they make on a jury, but it is essential that they disclose relevant information during the jury selection process. For example, a juror who lost a child in a drunk driving accident will bring their feelings about drunk driving to any DUI case and may be unable to prioritize the facts of the case. Failure to disclose this experience can lead to biased outcomes in the courtroom.
Jurors who abuse substances during the trial impact their own judgement.
Most people know that drugs and alcohol can impair their ability to make decisions, but some jurors use these substances during a trial despite this fact. Jurors who are drunk or high cannot make a fair decision in the courtroom.
When jurors engage in misconduct, they have violated the rights of those involved in the case. Because of this, a person convicted in the trial could be eligible for post-conviction relief.