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Juror Dismissed for Candor?

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From the Register-Citizen in Connecticut, a surprising development in the Steven Hayes trial:

NEW HAVEN -- A juror in the Steven J. Hayes triple homicide trial was dismissed today after being overheard saying to another juror that this is "bullshit," an apparent reference to testimony being presented during testimony in the penalty phase of trial.
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The juror's comment apparently referred to statements by either Hayes' defense attorney or that of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Eric Goldsmith, who was hired by the defense and has given extensive testimony during the penalty phase of the trial.
New Haven Chief Public Defender Thomas Ullmann, Hayes' attorney, made the motion that the juror be dismissed, which [Judge] Blue granted.
The juror was called back into the courtroom, still outside the presence of other jurors, and told by Blue that her comment was "clearly improper."
What is improper here?  Using profanity?  If we dismiss every juror who uses profanity, we are going to need a lot more alternates.  Stating disbelief of a witness?  That kind of evaluation is exactly what jurors are supposed to do.  Skepticism of the mental experts in the penalty phase of capital cases is entirely warranted.  Talking during the testimony, rather than waiting for deliberations?  Admonishment rather than dismissal would have been appropriate.  Sounds to me like the juror was merely expressing a candid evaluation.

14 Comments

Blue probably doesn't want to get reversed, and there are plenty of courts that would reverse a death sentence for this. The "clearly improper" comment is silly. Is there really a rule that a juror cannot express any sentiment about the trial as it is ongoing?

I suspect there would be quite a few judges on the federal bench who would relish tossing a death sentence in a case like this, just for the opportunity to piously lecture the rest of us about "the rule of law."

Can't say after reading about the testimony, I didn't have the exact same feelings of the excused juror.

What's a clear-thinking juror to do? Will rolling your eyes at a hired gun's fanciful explanation of the defendant's unavoidable behavior also earn a dismissal?

It should be incumbent upon the defense to advance only those arguments that can "pass the laugh test."

There was a story yesterday reporting that several of the jurors were admonished for laughing at defense expert forensic psychologist Mark Cunningham who testified that Hayes posed little danger of violence if given a LWOP sentence - despite the fact that Hayes recently threatened to kill a correctional officer. Cunningham had the audacity to base this claim on the fatuous assertion that Hayes had no reported episodes of violence during his previous years of incarceration and because he's no spring chicken.

To think that the taxpayers are paying for such an expert opinion. It's high time for Woodson v. North Carolina to be overruled. A mandatory death sentence for these types of crimes would keep courtrooms free of this type of BS. At some point ordinary citizens are just going to call a spade a spade.

Don't stop there - just repeal the Eighth Amendment while you're at it.

Being a juror is not some kind of responsibility free job. They take an oath to impartially listen to the evidence - if they are lying or it turns out they can't follow this oath in practice then they should be dismissed.

Impartially, not uncritically.

Calling BS what it is does not violate a juror's oath.

I guess, bhaal, if a juror cries during testimony about the specifics of a crime, he or she should be tossed.

But what about the larger point--if you're going to have a death penalty, should we really be feeding the decisionmakers on the issue such "expert" nonsense. Should the needle on the death/LWOP decision be at all influenced by what this Cunningham guy and guys like him have to say? I would have no problem with argument from defense counsel that Hayes is older etc. etc., but Cunningham's testimony on this point is silly.

I don't know the rules in CT but I know that in CA jurors are specifically admonished to not discuss the case AT ALL with jurors until deliberation time. They are told that making any comment, no matter how innocuous, is misconduct. Possibly the "inappropriate" aspect of the comment was that it was on the case, not the merits of the actual comment. It actually happened in a civil case of mine that dealt with the cause of cerebral palsy in a 7 year old who was born with it. One juror merely commented about how sad the situation was and that the girl was an incredible little girl. The juror who heard the comment told the judge and the judge promptly dismissed the commenter.

With that said, federalist is probably right. Blue is going to make every close call in favor of the defense so there is no chance of this getting reversed. Let's just all be thankful that this will never get reviewed by the 9th Circuit.

federalist, is the point that predictions of future dangerousness are unreliable? if cunningham is not supported by the science, isn't the state free to submit its own witness explaining how poor of job he is doing?

Don't get me wrong, jurors can call BS for what it is, but they should wait until the jury room to do so. Doing so in open court is disrespectful in a number of ways - not least because it demeans the process and calls its legitimacy into question. Jurors should listen to all the evidence and then form an opinion - if there's a suggestion they cannot do that it undermines the verdict.

As someone opposed to the death penalty there's a part of me that wishes this juror had stayed on the panel, leading to a successful appeal and a a new sentencing hearing in several years, but I also respect the justice system and think it's important for that respect to be maintained whenever possible. If there's going to be a death verdict at all it shouldn't be one that is easily open to attack.

John, the point is, of course, is that people who commit such heinous crimes are obviously a danger. That danger may be controlled in a prison, but they are nonetheless a danger.

Do you have any idea how laughable your reference to the "science" is?

As for the state rebuttal--well, I'm sure that they can handle Mr. Cunningham. Whether taxpayers should have to pay for this farce is another matter.

I guess I have to, again, ask if you are suggesting if people claiming to make predictions about future dangerousness are making unreliable, unscientific predictions.

John, you must believe that I am an idiot. I know what you're trying to sucker me into--a discussion of Texas' future dangerousness practice. Sorry, I won't bite.

There are so many issues here--the Daubertization of things, the fact that the Supreme Court forced states to cull out certain murders for death etc. etc. It's a prolonged discussion, and your attempt to sucker me shows that you aren't really interested in an honest discussion.

Future dangerousness is usually an obvious common-sense determination--so I dispute the premise of your question. I am sure that in some cases, psychiatric testimony may be helpful, but Cunningham's testimony strikes me as simply a hired gun yapping. That states have to play the game too is not an indictment of the states, but rather the Supreme Court's "jurisprudence".

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