Court says no jury oath, no conviction

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — A jury’s pledge to justly hear a criminal case is a mandatory part of any trial, the Michigan appeals court said last Friday as it threw out a conviction in Jackson County because jurors were not given the oath.

The challenge was raised by an attorney for David Allan, who was charged with conspiring with his daughter to commit extortion. Prosecutors said Allan’s daughter met a man at a strip club in 2010, had sex with him months later and threatened to accuse him of rape unless he paid her.

Jurors were sworn-in during the selection process before the 2011 trial, but apparently not before opening statements and the presentation of evidence.

Allan’s appellate lawyer, Randy Davidson, said he discovered the problem while reviewing the transcript.

“It’s just something we do,” he said in an interview. “From my experience and training, I know the general order of things in a trial. I didn’t see the (oath) and thought, ‘That’s unusual.’”

The oath typically is read to jurors by a judge or a court clerk, and the jurors then reply in the affirmative.

Jurors are asked to pledge that they will “justly decide the questions submitted” to them and come up with a “verdict only on the evidence introduced and in accordance with the instructions of the court, so help you God.”

The appeals court said it’s important.

“The oath is not mere formality. Rather, it is a long-standing common-law requirement that is necessary to protect defendant’s constitutional right to a trial by an impartial jury,” judges William Whitbeck, E. Thomas Fitzgerald and Jane Beckering said.

The three-judge panel said Allan, 52, must be given another trial. He is serving a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. Jennifer Allan, 30, pleaded guilty and was recently released on parole, according to Corrections Department records.

Prosecutors had argued that any mistake shouldn’t lead to a new trial. Jackson County assistant prosecutor Jerry Schrotenboer said the decision will be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. He called the case “extraordinarily unusual.”

It wasn’t David Allan’s first brush with the law. He has past convictions for larceny and manslaughter, according to online state records.