Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jurors using bad judgment.

There is an old joke that the definition of a jury is 12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty. There is also an old saying that there is some truth in all kidding. Exhibit A to this saying is Daniel Matz. Mr. Matz was a member of a jury on a rape trial in Queens, New York.

The trial lasted over a week and the jury was into its third day of deliberations when Mr. Matz sent two text messages to a friend during the deliberations. In a message sent at 2:08 pm on June 7, Mr. Matz wrote," 5 Doubting Thomases don't know for certain, And were this not a rape case I'd pull the rug from under the prosecution and vote to acquit." As if to make extra sure that the recipient of the email understood that, the emails were sent from the deliberations, Mr. Matz wrote that he was sending the emails from "a 12x20 jury room." Mr. Matz noted that the WiFi in the jury room was "excellent" and ended by writing, "Juror #5 reporting to you live."

Who was the lucky recipient of these texts? Michael Nunley, an assistant district attorney in the Bronx. Put another way, Mr. Matz was writing to a prosecutor about jury deliberations during the deliberations. Mr. Nunley, who apparently has better judgment than Mr. Matz, promptly informed the court that he had received the texts. The judge then declared a mistrial. He also fined Mr. Matz $1,000 for contempt.

Mr. Matz, however, got off easy compared to Exhibit B, Joanne Fraill. Ms. Fraill was a juror on a drug trial in England. While the trial was going on, Ms. Fraill contacted Jamie Sewart, a co-defendant who had already been cleared in the case. Ms. Fraill told Ms. Sewart details of the jury deliberations while the jury was deliberating. In addition, Ms. Fraill did internet searches about the case. Both these things were violations of her oath as a juror. Like Mr. Martz’s trial, Ms. Fraill’s actions resulted in a mistrial.

Where Mr. Martz was simply fined, Ms. Fraill was sentenced to eight months in jail. In sentencing Ms. Fraill, the judge wrote:

Her conduct in visiting the internet repeatedly was directly contrary to her oath as a juror, and her contact with the acquitted defendant, as well as her repeated searches on the internet, constituted flagrant breaches of the orders made by the judge for the proper conduct of the trial
Imposition of Ms. Fraill's sentence will be suspended for two years because she has a three-year-old daughter.

In both cases the jurors were given an explicit instruction not to talk about the case. To what do we attribute their subsequent disobeying of the instructions? If we were to follow the joke I mentioned at the beginning of this post we would say their stupidity was to blame. That is certainly possible. As H.L. Mencken put it, "no body ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." I suspect that they probably didn't have any idea that there would be a penalty for breaking the instructions. Also, another reason they disobeyed the instructions might be the same reason a lot of criminals commit crimes in the first place--they probably didn't think they would get caught.

UPDATE: As one of our readers noticed, Ms. Sewart and not Ms. Fraill was given the stay in her sentence (Ms. Sewart was given a two-month sentence).


  1. No, Mrs Fraill is in jail. It is the other woman to whom she sent the messages whose sentence was suspended because she has a daughter.

  2. @Seawitch Artist
    You are the ass.

  3. Anon1, you are correct. Ms. Sewart was given the stayed sentence. Ms. Frail was not. Poor reading on my part.


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