Patterico's Pontifications

2/10/2009

Just Call It a “Baker’s Jury,” Have Good Laugh, and Go Home

Filed under: Crime — Patterico @ 8:30 pm



You don’t see this every day:

The Harris County jury returned a guilty verdict after deliberating 45 minutes in a murder case, but the judge realized he had a real problem. Sitting in the jury box were 13 citizens.

Instead of sentencing Charles Mapps to prison in the shooting death of his girlfriend, state District Judge Mark Kent Ellis on Tuesday declared a mistrial. . . . Ellis said a criminal jury must have 12 people on it and can’t have any outside influences. He said the 13th juror would be considered an outside influence, despite the fact that she sat through all of the testimony.

My off the cuff opinion is that this is a textbook case of harmless error. But that’s probably just the prosecutor in me talking . . .

20 Responses to “Just Call It a “Baker’s Jury,” Have Good Laugh, and Go Home”

  1. Just as long as they got 13 doughnuts.

    Joe (17aeff)

  2. Doh!

    Pablo (99243e)

  3. 12? 13? peers? not peers? What’s the diff?

    John Hitchcock (fb941d)

  4. To me this is a textbook case of government incompetence. Didn’t they think it strange when they had to bring in an extra chair?

    Morons in government, whudda thunk it?

    Two Dogs (2577c6)

  5. I could see a potential problem if they had only had 11 jurors, but tossing the result because of an extra seems a mite silly.

    And even 11 isn’t so low as to offend SCOTUS in many instances.

    Soronel Haetir (cabedb)

  6. Can’t juries have alternates in case a seated juror can not last the entire trial?

    Adriane (6cae82)

  7. Adriane,

    Yes, but they’re not supposed to deliberate with the other 12.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  8. Another example of beating the system on a technicality.

    Alta Bob (44f27c)

  9. crazy! How did the judge not notice? Did they select 13 by accident or did this person walk in off the street?

    TLove (012115)

  10. No, TLove, it sounds like they let an alternate deliberate.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  11. Ahhh. That’s not as bad as it seemed at first read.

    TLove (012115)

  12. I understand the rule, but find the situation confusing. How would this person’s rights be violated by more discussion? Would a jury of 50 be less able to deliberate than a jury of 12.

    Although I can see how the true status of the defendant would affect the choices:

    If I was a defendant and not guilty, I might opt for a larger pool of people, as a greater sample would most likely produce someone that could correctly analyze both the prosecution and the defense arguments. If my defense were capable, better analysis of the presented evidence would seem to be a plus.

    If I were guilty, I might want less people, based on the same reasoning.

    Apogee (f4320c)

  13. I suppose the defense atty could argue that maybe the defense would have been different if there had been a different jury makeup than the original 12 that had been selected?

    TLove (012115)

  14. I think this is a harmless error. That said, if there’s any chance at all that a conviction would be voided on appeal, it’s better to just declare the mistrial now rather than wait five years for the appeals process to result in a mistrial.

    aphrael (9e8ccd)

  15. aphrael’s right… the judge is just being extra careful. Which would have been a more convenient approach during the jury selection, but I’ll take what I can get.

    Sadly, the defendant will likely take a deal now that he realizes his case is poor. Fortunately, it probably won’t be a very good deal.

    Joco (4cdfb7)

  16. How about an appeal claiming:

    1. Double jeopardy — not the defendants fault the court screwed up. Kind of like a strikeout and passed ball.

    2. The psychological trauma of this sham trial constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore the defendant should be released.

    3. The news accounts of this judicial travesty makes a fair trial impossible, and he needs a change of venue. Preferably to someplace more favorable.

    Pretty sure that Reinhardt, Karlton and Henderson would go fo it.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  17. I don’t agree with you on the harmless error point. We don’t put juror deliberations under a microscope, and we shouldn’t. Rather, we enforce the general rules against such things as outside influence very strictly, and then rely upon jurors who operate under those strictly enforced general rules to do the right thing without asking things like, “What did Juror #13 say, and whose vote changed on the basis of that?” You aren’t even proposing that we do that sort of inquiry to show a lack of harm, but rather, you’re just guessing that the dynamics weren’t affected in any material way in coming to your conclusion that the error was probably “harmless.” I think the trial judge was absolutely right to declare a mistrial: No one will ever know, and no one can therefore say with confidence, whether the error was or wasn’t harmless, and when the error was something so fundamentally wrong (as easily preventable) as sending the wrong number of people back to deliberate, we ought to insist — at least in criminal cases (I might come to a different conclusion in civil cases, which in Texas only require a 10/2 verdict anyway) — that the system be operated precisely by the book.

    Beldar (45ed7e)

  18. Was this an alternate juror?

    If so, is that really an outside influence?

    Had another juror keeled over just prior to deliberations Mr. 13 would have been a necessary part of the jury. More generally who is to say which juror did not belong?

    ThomasD (211bbb)

  19. This is classic harmless error. First of all, the defendant did not object, so the error has to be plain, which means that the defendant had to suffer “egregious harm”. All things being equal, getting an extra juror is a net benefit for a criminal defendant.

    Easy case.

    spo (62ca0c)

  20. All things being equal, getting an extra juror is a net benefit for a criminal defendant.

    I agree, since a conviction requires unanimity. One juror can hang the trial.

    Chris L (645566)


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