Jurors Behaving Badly, Again

While trial by jury is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution, most non-lawyers are unaware of how much extra work this creates for judges and lawyers to ensure that each and every criminal defendant gets a fair trial based only on the evidence presented in court. Sometimes jurors fail to make this job any easier by ignoring the judge’s explicit instructions, including the recent Dallas County capital murder case where a juror bragged about reading trial news coverage despite being told not to. 

A new twist on this old story was provided by the recent high-profile case involving John Goodman, a millionaire polo mogul from Houston who got into trouble in Palm Beach, Fla. Goodman was convicted of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide following the death of a 23-year-old man who drowned when his vehicle was pushed into a canal after being struck by Goodman’s luxury car. Goodman, who reportedly adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend in an attempt to shield his assets from a civil lawsuit filed by the victim’s parents, recently introduced new evidence of potential juror misconduct in hopes of refuting his March 2012 conviction.

The new evidence came from a book published by a juror who helped convict Goodman. In the self-published book, the juror admitted to drinking three vodka tonics the night before the verdict so he could see for himself whether that amount of alcohol would impair his driving ability. Prosecutors had alleged that Goodman had a similar amount to drink on the night of the fatal accident. Based on the juror’s unauthorized experiment, Goodman’s lawyers argued that their client deserves a new trial. The trial judge disagreed and sentenced Goodman to 16 years in prison on May 11.

Now, it’s unlikely that the judge’s instructions included an admonition against getting drunk to simulate the defendant’s state of mind or body, but it certainly prohibited jurors from performing their own independent research or investigation. That one act threatened to throw out a verdict that was reached only after many people devoted a lot of time and resources to ensure a fair trial. 

Perhaps the only good thing here is that the offending juror wasn’t doing his own research on an armed robbery case. 

Posted: 6/5/2012 6:11:21 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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