Court sidesteps decision on jury discussions

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court read briefs and heard arguments but declined to take additional action in the unique appeal of a convicted carjacker who claimed he didn’t get a fair trial because a Macomb County jury was allowed to discuss evidence before the end of his trial.

In a recent 5-2 order, the court said “we are no longer persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed.” Maurice Richards, 23, had challenged the ability of jurors to discuss evidence during breaks while the case still was in progress.

The Supreme Court had set up a two-year pilot project that gave some judges the authority to tell jurors to talk about what they had heard even if the trial wasn’t over.

On appeal, Richard’s attorney, Christopher Smith, said it was unconstitutional for a few reasons, noting that jurors could have been influenced by opinions of alternate jurors who would have been dismissed before final deliberations.

“It puts the defense at a disadvantage because the prosecutor is always the party that gets to go first,” Smith said in an interview last Friday, referring to how evidence is presented at trial.
“If the jury is allowed to discuss the case, the party that gets to go first will be able to shape those impressions.” The Supreme Court’s decision to drop Richards’ appeal means his 2009
convictions for carjacking and possession of a firearm will stand.

Although the Supreme Court didn’t issue an opinion, three justices expressed their views about the practice.

Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. said there’s nothing unconstitutional about jurors talking about a case, especially if they follow the rules and do it as a group.

Justices Marilyn Kelly and Diane Hathaway, however, said Richards didn’t receive a fair trial.

“If jurors have decided the case for the prosecution before the accused has had the opportunity to present evidence, the burden has effectively shifted to the accused to change the jurors’ minds. ... No instruction to the jurors to correct the violation, however artfully contrived, can overcome this obstacle,” Kelly said.


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