THE ALLEGED FACTS
Some new interesting developments have come to light concerning one of the jurors (Juror #17) in the most recent Jodi Arias jury trial. It’s being reported by CBS 5, a local television station from Phoenix, that the lone juror who held out for a life sentence, forcing a mistrial, sparing Arias from the death penalty, has an unusual link to Juan Martinez, Jodi Arias’ prosecutor. Apparently, Juror #17 used to be married to a guy who Martinez prosecuted in the late 1990s for murder. For some unknown reason, the charge was dismissed. Additionally, that same ex-husband was prosecuted for Burglary in May of 2000 and was sentenced to four months in jail. It’s alleged that while those criminal cases were pending, Juror #17 and the man being prosecuted by Martinez got married and had two children together.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
In an attempt to make sense of the verdict and to explain some of the legal issues involved in the case, I wrote the following article immediately after the verdict, see: https://www.floridacriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/2015/03/making-sense-jodi-arias-hung-jury-decision.html. At the time, the information concerning Juror #17’s connection to Juan Martinez had not yet been made public. In light of how much misinformation has been posted on social media concerning this new revelation, I think it would be helpful to address some of the most common issues being discussed.
Question #1: Does this mean that Juror #17 definitely did something improper?
Answer: No, not necessarily. During jury selection, also known as voir dire, jurors are required to answer only those questions asked of them. The process is very controlled and structured. It’s not a free for all. If, for example, she was asked by prosecutor Juan Martinez a question like, “Do you know anyone who has ever been prosecuted by this (Martinez’s) office” and denied it with the intent to deceive the court, then she did something extremely improper and should be prosecuted. If it was never asked, as I suspect it wasn’t, then she didn’t have a legal obligation to disclose it. Many would argue that she had a moral obligation to do so. That’s up for discussion. Obviously, if as a result of her ex-husband’s prosecutions she developed strong feelings for or against Martinez and/or his office, then it certainly would have been helpful had she volunteered those experiences. It would have afforded the attorneys an opportunity to ask follow up questions designed to determine if she could still be fair to both sides. Again, unless asked directly, she’s not under any legal obligation to disclose it.
Having tried over 125 criminal jury trials as a prosecutor and a defense attorney in both state and federal courts, it’s been my experience that most potential jurors are nervous about having to speak in court. If she wasn’t trying to intentionally conceal her past, then it’s possible that she didn’t bring it up because she feared speaking in public and wanted to say as little as possible. Alternatively and/or in addition to that, it’s possible that she felt that it was something in her past that in no way would affect her in the Arias trial. No one except Juror #17 knows with certainty.
Question #2: In light of the fact that she had this history with Juan Martinez and his office, doesn’t that mean that she shouldn’t have been put on the jury?
Answer: Not necessarily. There’s nothing in the law that precludes someone from sitting on a jury if their loved ones, coincidentally, happened to have been prosecuted by the same office prosecuting the current case. In fact, let’s take it to the extreme and say hypothetically, everyone in her family, every friend she ever knew, everyone she ever loved, and even her own children were prosecuted by Martinez’s office. She can still legally serve as a juror on a case where Martinez and his office are involved as long as she can swear under oath that she can decide the case solely based upon the evidence and law presented.
There are instances where a person legally cannot serve. That list includes, but is not limited to convicted felons, people who can’t speak English, and those who aren’t U.S. citizens above the age of 18. Having a family member prosecuted in the past isn’t on that list of automatic disqualification.
Many may question how someone with that type of history could have the ability to set aside that kind of experience and decide the case solely based on the evidence and the law presented. It’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t in some way affect their thought process. Only Juror #17 knows. Perhaps she was a “stealth” juror, as many have alleged on social media. Maybe she hid her true disdain for Juan Martinez and/or his office and made sure she got payback by establishing herself as the lone hold out. Another possibility is that whatever her feelings were concerning the past, she was honest when she swore during jury selection that she could set them aside and follow the law in making her decision. Both possibilities are plausible. While many in their anger and frustration claim they know with certainty how she felt, the fact is no one other than Juror #17 knows for sure.
Question #3: Will Juror #17 be prosecuted or sanctioned in some way?
Answer: Probably not. As explained above, there’s no conclusive proof at this time that she lied or violated the law in any way. Additionally, even if it’s suspected that she was a stealth juror and lied her way onto the jury, it most likely can never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as required for a criminal prosecution.
Question #4: Can’t something be done in the future to prevent people with that type of background from serving on a criminal jury?
Answer: Perhaps. First, attorneys always need to ask the right questions to flesh out any jurors who may be biased against their side. If Martinez didn’t ask the right questions, then it’s on him. No finger pointing is needed. If he failed to sufficiently inquire of this juror during jury selection, then he is punishing himself right now more than anyone can. I suspect that prosecutors around the country will learn from this experience if they don’t already ask the types of questions that would have yielded this potential bias. Also, it’s important to note that every juror who serves brings their life experiences to their deliberations. She wasn’t the only Arias juror who had some event in their life that caused them to lean at least slightly to one side. It’s through their own unique lens, filled with their own life experiences, that they make conclusions concerning the evidence presented. The only way to guarantee that a juror won’t bring their bias and life experiences into the jury room is to use robots instead. It’s no different then the rape victim who serves on a rape case. She can serve as long as she can fulfill her promise to follow the law. Similarly, someone who was once falsely accused of a crime may also serve. Again, as long as they can decide the case based on the evidence and the law, they can legally serve. Nothing prevents the prosecutors or defense lawyers from using their peremptory challenges during jury selection in order to remove a potential juror whose past experiences may make them favor one side or another.
For those who are convinced that she lied her way onto that jury and made sure that the prosecution didn’t get the outcome they so desperate sought, you may be right. On the other hand, for those who believe that she was honest when she said she could follow the law and keep an open mind when evaluating the evidence, you may be right as well. Only Juror #17 knows what her true intentions were. For those who condemn her and for those who defend her, each one of you has the constitutional right to express your opinions. Keep in mind however, that unless there’s sufficient credible evidence that she intentionally engaged in misconduct, then she may have just been an honest juror who, as the law permits, held on to her conclusion about the evidence. The process may have worked exactly as it was supposed to. Justice doesn’t mean that everyone everywhere gets the verdict they want. I know first hand that feeling of anger and emptiness when a trial doesn’t go the way I desperately want it to go. Our criminal justice system, while the best in the world, will always be perfectly imperfect.