August 22, 2019 Top Story

Judge's Ex Parte Meeting with Jurors Sparks Retrial

Trial court neglected best practices in addressing jury’s security concerns

By Jonathan R. Engel

A trial judge’s meeting with jurors without counsel present to discuss certain jurors’ concerns about the defendants’ courtroom behavior warranted a new trial. The court of appeals held that the ex parte meeting and the trial judge’s inflammatory comments impacted the jury’s ability to make a fair decision. ABA Section of Litigation leaders note the troubling appearance of impropriety that can arise when a judge fails to follow best practices in communicating with jurors.

Ex Parte Meeting Results in Convictions Being Vacated

During a criminal trial for nonviolent offenses, some of the jurors expressed concerns about the courtroom behavior of two of the defendants. A group of jurors asked to speak with the trial judge about their security concerns. The judge did not require the jurors to write down their inquiry or discuss the issue with counsel beforehand. Instead, he went into the jury room and discussed the jurors’ concerns with them directly.

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