Thursday, September 20, 2012

Death Penalty appropriate where jury is buying gag gifts for judge and bailiff?

Yesterday, the 11th Circuit said no problem.  First the facts:

Juror MH admitted to giving the Judge white chocolate in the shape of a penis. She testified that she called her husband to request that her friend—who owned a confectionary shop—make chocolate turtles for the jury. ... The friend, in addition to the turtles, included the white chocolate penis as a gag gift to lighten things up. ... Juror MH recalls that Bailiff LP told her that the Judge wanted to see it.

On the last day of the trial, Juror MH testified that she took the chocolate, which was in a box and inside a bag, to the jury room. Juror MH gave the gift to the Judge in the jury room, and the Judge slid the gift into her sleeve. ...
Bailiff LP received an inappropriate gift of white chocolate in the shape of female breasts from the jurors. ... After Bailiff LP returned from caring for her sick mother, the court clerk gave her a box containing white chocolate breasts monogrammed “[Bailiff’s first name]’s hooters.” Bailiff LP does not know who gave her the gift. She thinks that the gift may been prompted by a discussion at dinner between two of the younger male jurors. The two jurors were discussing how their grandmothers had ample chests and that when their grandmothers hugged them they felt they would be suffocated. Bailiff LP then joined the conversation by lamenting the fact that she would be remembered by her grandchildren for her ample chest. ...

The holding:

 The record establishes that the unfortunate giving of these tasteless gifts was nonetheless inconsequential to the verdicts, and otherwise played no part in the judge’s or jury’s consideration of the case. The two gifts were given independent of each other, given at the conclusion of the trial, and none of the jurors testified that the gifts were based on anything that occurred during trial. Furthermore, at most only a few of the jurors were involved in giving the tasteless gifts. None of the jurors testified that the gifts bore any relation to their decision to find Wellons guilty of murder and rape, and they testified that the gifts did not affect their decision to impose the death penalty.

We do not condone the acceptance of gifts, de minimus though they may be, by judges or bailiffs during any trial—criminal or civil. Nor do we condone the giving of gifts by the jury to the presiding judge or bailiff during any trial. Trial judges are expected to properly handle these situations, sternly admonish or discipline those involved, and disclose such occurrences to each party so that timely objections can be considered and made. The Judge here neglected to take such steps. Only because we have no doubt that the gifts did not factor into the judge or jury’s ultimate consideration of the case are we able to affirm the denial of habeas relief.
We also acknowledge that the ill-advised actions of a few thoughtless jurors could create the perception that this jury was too busy joking around rather than deciding Wellons’s fate. But these were two isolated incidents in the span of a multi-week trial and we cannot say, on the basis of this record, that the verdicts were tainted.
We put a heavy burden on the twelve men and women of a jury when we take them away from their jobs, families and lives, summon them to the courthouse, sequester them, and ask them to decide whether a person charged with a capital crime should be put to death. Although they were intended to bring a moment of levity to a serious and somber occasion, the gifts were tasteless and inappropriate. But we are unable to conclude that this conduct amounts to juror or judicial misconduct of sufficient constitutional magnitude to warrant habeas corpus relief.

Well, what do you all think?

Does the jury conduct in this case taint the death penalty verdict? free polls 


Anonymous said...

Interesting. Prosecutors and defense lawyers who behave badly are called out by name. Judges who acted badly? Just called Judge.

Patrick said...

I am 100% against the death penalty. The fact that the United States stands togther with China, Cuba, Iran, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, among others, that sanction death is an abomination.

The actions of the jurors, judge and bailiffs sickens me. After sentencing a person to death, some jurors thought it appropriate to present the judge with a chocolate penis? And the judge accepted the gift? Are you kidding me? Those jurors did not take their service seriously. The judge is a complete idiot. The bailiffs should not be engaging in conversations with the jury. I guess I just fell off the turnip truck. After 25 years as an attorney, I should not be so naive to expect better behavior especially from a judge.

Anonymous said...


justice is not about vengeance

to the contrary

this one is an abomination that reflects poorly on the whole system

Anonymous said...

This is what the Supreme Court said, the last time it reviewed this case:

"From beginning to end, judicial proceedings conducted for the purpose of deciding whether a defendant shall be put to death must be conducted with dignity and respect. The disturbing facts of this case raise serious questions concerning the conduct of the trial, and this petition raises a serious question about whether the Court of Appeals carefully reviewed those facts before addressing petitioner’s constitutional claims."

Last time up, this case was remanded on procedural grounds. Do you think the Supremes will feel differently when this case gets back to them early next year?

Anonymous said...

Was is just chocolate or chocolate with nuts?