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Understanding the Jury Sequestration Rules

Understanding the Jury Sequestration Rules

Jury sequestration is a strategy often used by judges to increase the chances of a fair and objective trial. It involves the isolation of the jurors from any outside influence during the course of the trial. Learn about the various rules that need to be followed during such an event, through this article.
OpinionFront Staff
Costly Affair
Sequestering the jury in the 43-day long, Casey Anthony trial, cost the state of Florida a whopping $350,00.
A jury is a group of random individuals who are chosen by the court, and tasked with determining whether the accused party is guilty of the crime or not, based on the evidence presented in court during trial proceedings. Selection of the jury members or jurors is carried out by a process called voir dire, which involves interviewing them to gain an idea of the jurors' mindset, thought process, and personal bias. The formation of the jury occurs with the prime goal of conducting a fair and impartial trial.

But due to the technological advancements in mass media, and also due to the large impact that social media has on every aspect of people's daily life, this goal has become a little difficult to achieve. It is hard to remain unbiased and impartial in the face of the torrential outpour of all the various opinions and angles of the crime being discussed on social media like television, newspapers, internet, etc.

To avoid this, the provision of jury sequestering is rendered at the discretion of the judge presiding over the trial proceedings. It is usually carried out in cases that are sensitive, criminal, high profile, or related to organized crime. Sometimes juries are also sequestered if there is a chance they might be bribed or threatened by the accused to gain a favorable verdict.

Jury Selection

► At the time of voir dire, the potential jurors must be informed if they will be sequestered and explained what it would entail.

► An estimated length of the trial should be made known to the jurors.

► Extra jurors should be selected, in case some drop out due to valid hardship reasons.

► Once the jury is selected, the jurors should be given enough time so that they may be able to go home and pack all the necessities they will be needing during the period of the trial, and then report back at a particular time and place so that they may be transported to the court, sworn in, and then sequestered.

► They should also be issued an official letter that states that they are engaged in jury duty. This can be presented to employers to account for their absence. In addition to this, telephone numbers of the court or the clerk must be given, so that the jurors can be contacted by family and employers in case of emergencies.

► It should be emphasized that they are not supposed to discuss the case proceedings or the evidence presented at court with anyone not in the jury.

► They are also not to view media discussions or reports on the case during the trial period.

► The jury is sequestered after the jurors have been sworn in.

Jury Sequestration and Restrictions

► The jurors should be instructed not to discuss the case with anyone prior to sequestration or during the recess while the case is being tried. They must also avoid any contact with the media.

► If the trial is going to last a long time, arrangements could be made so that the jurors have some sort of contact with their families, under the supervision of the court deputies and bailiffs.

► The name of the hotel in which the jury is to be sequestered should be kept anonymous.

► The cost of the hotel rooms and 3 daily meals for each juror is taken care of by the court.

► All the televisions and radios should be removed from the hotel rooms of the jurors to prevent the jury from being affected by the media coverage of the case.

► All the newspapers and magazines that are provided must be reviewed beforehand by the deputies, and all the articles related to the case in any way are removed or blacked out.

► All the telephones are also removed from the hotel rooms, and the personal cell phones of the jurors are collected and kept with the deputies.

► Any phone call or visit with a family member must be under the supervision of a deputy.

► If the jurors feel the need to contact someone, they are to request the deputies for the same. The deputies may allow it after checking with the judge.

► The jurors are allowed a two-drink limit for alcohol with evening meals with their own expenses.

► The jurors should always travel together in a group accompanied by a deputy.

► In case of any misconduct or violation of the rules, a hearing is held in the presence of the legal counsel of both parties and the judge, to determine the penalty to be awarded. In some cases, the jurors are also discharged and charged with a hefty fine.

Exemptions

Selected jurors may be exempted from jury duty if they provide proof that being sequestered would be detrimental to them. The decision to exempt a juror is at the discretion of the judge, and the accepted valid reasons include the following.

Child care - If the juror is taking care of a child and has no one who would fill that role temporarily.

Financial problems - If the individual is self employed and gets paid on a daily basis, i.e. on a no work, no pay system.

Travel - If the individual has prior travel plans with tickets that cannot be refunded.

Health - If the juror requires regular medical care or is at risk of health condition (e.g. epilepsy, narcolepsy, etc).

However, if the judge feels that the reasons stated are not valid enough to excuse the juror, the request for exemption is denied.

In recent times, jury sequestration is losing its effectiveness. Longer trials have seen the jurors getting frustrated with the sequestration rules and losing concentration in the court room. This may lead to a hasty and ineffective verdict just to put an end to the trial and the sequestration. Also, in some cases, due to the massive media coverage of a case prior to its trial, the jury pool is already tainted. High maintenance costs is yet another problem faced by the courts.