Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Legal experts give their analysis of jury questions from Oregon standoff trial

Tuesday's stunning development in the Oregon standoff trial - with one juror questioning another juror's impartiality in a note to the court - coupled with another jury question about what to do if unanimous decisions can't be reached on certain defendants and their charges - led to plenty of legal speculation on what it all means. The fact that jurors asked what to do if they're able to "agree on a verdict for 3 of the defendants but are at a standoff for the others,'' had defense lawyers in the federal conspiracy trial buoyed with optimism that they may have raised some reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds regarding four of the seven defendants. Defense lawyer Matthew Schindler, a standby counsel for defendant Kenneth Medenbach, sent out a message on Twitter shortly afterwards that read, "Some of the defendants almost certainly acquitted.'' While the parties agreed to have the judge respond with a message to jurors that if they are unable to reach an unanimous decision and are satisfied that additional deliberations will not change that status, then they should report that to the court. If the jury can't come to agreement on a certain criminal count, the court could declare a "hung jury,'' on that count, and the charge could be retried. But it was the second juror question that presented even more of a quandry for the court: "Can a juror, a former employee of the Bureau of Land Management, who opens their remarks in deliberations by stating, 'I am very biased...' be considered an impartial judge in this case?'' While the judge Tuesday questioned Juror 11, the former BLM employee, if anything had changed since jury selection when he said his former job as a BLM ranch tech and firefighter "20 years ago,'' wouldn't impact his ability to fairly weigh the evidence in this case, he said no. But the simple presence of a former employee of the federal land management agency on the jury had some legal observers scratching their hands as to why he was allowed to serve in the first place. Lewis & Clark Law Prof. Tung Yin said he was curious why the defense didn't use a "peremptory strike'' to knock this man off the jury during the voir dire process. The lawyers are due back in court Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Judge Brown said she'd consider defense requests to ask any other questions of Juror 11, or Juror 4, who raised the question about juror impartiality, based on supporting case law they can cite. Andrew Chongseh Kim, a Concordia University law professor, said keeping the jury as is in the Bundy trial deliberations could lay grounds for an appeal if there are convictions. "The easiest way to avoid an appeal by the defense would be to replace Juror 11 with an alternate juror,'' Kim said. "The prosecution, however, would likely object that this would be interfering with the jury in the middle of deliberations.'' Yet Yin said the judge's query of Juror 11 and finding that he can be fair and impartial is a finding that would be "very difficult to challenge successfully on appeal.'' Other legal observers said the jury questions indicates there's some dissension or discord among the jurors, which is not welcome news for prosecutors. Removing a juror that could be favorable to the prosecution could alter the deliberations, yet leaving the juror who allegedly cited his own bias at start of deliberations could leave the potential for a future appeal, they said...more

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