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Legally Speaking: Jodi Arias mistrial raises questions but system not broken

LISTEN: Monica Lindstrom - Jodi Arias Retrial - hung jury

New information about the holdout juror has many asking whether the non-verdict can be vacated or whether the holdout could be prosecuted or sued.

Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 24.1 covers Motions for new trial and addresses juror misconduct.

So, let’s look at this rule and break it down to determine if it allows anything to be done.

The first part of Rule 24.1 states:

a. Power of the Court. When the defendant has been found guilty or sentenced to death by a jury or by the court, the court on motion of the defendant, or on its own initiative with the consent of the defendant, may order a new trial or, in a capital case, an aggravation or penalty hearing.

According to the plain words of this rule, it only comes into play if the defendant has been found guilty or sentenced to death. Thursday, there was no verdict. A deadlocked jury forced a mistrial.

This retrial of the penalty only had to do with the sentence and did not change the verdict of guilty that resulted from the first jury. Additionally, Arias was not sentenced to death.

The rule then lays out the grounds for a court to grant a new penalty hearing. Here are the relevant parts for this issue:

(3) A juror or jurors have been guilty of misconduct by:

(i) Receiving evidence not properly admitted during the trial or the aggravation or penalty hearing;

(iii) Perjuring himself or herself or willfully failing to respond fully to a direct question posed during the voir dire examination;

(iv) Receiving a bribe or pledging his or her vote in any other way;

It is clear to anyone who has been on social media that there are many people angry that Arias will not be sentenced to death and that the holdout juror saved Arias’ life.

There are allegations she lied during voir dire regarding the Lifetime movie, her opinions about the death penalty, her ability to impose the death penalty, whether she knew the prosecutor and whether she could fulfill her oath by deliberating with her fellow jurors.

Applying the rule to the above allegations, the holdout juror could be guilty of misconduct.

The question becomes, how are the allegations proved?

The rule has a provision for that too.

It states:

d. Admissibility of Juror Evidence To Impeach the Verdict. Whenever the validity of a verdict is challenged under Rule 24.1(c)(3), the court may receive the testimony or affidavit of any witness, including members of the jury, which relates to the conduct of a juror, official of the court, or third person.

However, this section has a caveat;

No testimony or affidavit shall be received which inquires into the subjective motives or mental processes which led a juror to assent or dissent from the verdict.

The very last part of the rule is also significant in that it states:

(5) For any other reason not due to the defendant’s own fault the defendant has not received a fair and impartial trial or capital sentencing.

It clearly refers to “the defendant” has not received a fair and impartial capital sentencing. In this case people are claiming it was the State that did not receive a fair and impartial capital sentencing. The rule does not address that scenario which means the legislature did not intend to have this rule apply in this situation.

Long analysis short, and for our purposes, according to the plain words of this rule, it only comes into play if the defendant has been sentenced to death. Arias was not sentenced to death, there was a mistrial. There are no allegations that Arias did not receive a fair and impartial capital sentencing. As such, Juan Martinez, the prosecutor, cannot file a motion for a new trial since this rule does not apply.

Can the holdout juror be prosecuted for perjury?

Short answer is yes since she was under oath when she answered questions during voir dire. However, is this something the Maricopa County Attorneys Office would want to do?

I doubt it, considering the taxpayers are already upset about the expense of the State v. Jodi Arias trial and it likely doesn’t want to be seen as the prosecutor’s office that goes after potential jurors.

That could cause jurors to be too scared to speak up during voir dire and be honest. Yes, I know that sounds counterintuitive yet it is a result that could happen and I would venture to say it is not a result MCAO would want.

Can the Travis Alexander family sue the holdout juror?

As I am always telling Mac and Gaydos, anyone can sue anyone for anything but whether they would win or not is a different question.

In my opinion, jurors should have immunity from their decisions made during deliberations.

If a juror had a fear of retaliatory litigation would anyone ever want to be a juror? Would a juror ever want to be open and honest during deliberations? If there was a possibility of being sued for their decision or comments during deliberations would they ever want to open their mouths?

The answers are a resounding NO!

We simply cannot allow litigation against a juror for their decision (no matter how bad it may be) because of the impact it would have on our jury system. Some would argue that this should be allowed in order to keep potential jurors from lying during voir dire.

That is a good argument but there is already a remedy for that — the state can prosecute them for perjury. It probably would not do this but it could. Allowing a civil lawsuit would essentially undermine the jury deliberation system and process.

I know people are frustrated with the verdict, trust me, I have been commenting on and analyzing the State v. Jodi Arias case since Jan. 2013. I get the anger and the public outcry and I know the answers in this post are not what many want to read.

With that being said, don’t lose faith in the jury system, it is not perfect but it is far from being broken.