Saturday, April 08, 2006

Juror Abuse at the Hands of the State: A Case Study

Recently, someone emailed Jurygeek an appalling story from the Houston Chronicle. Seems a newly minted prosecutor in Harris County, Texas lost a jury trial in the 232nd District Court. His reaction was not to suck it up and take it as a learning experience, but to throw an infantile temper tantrum accusing the jurors of breaking the law. Unfortunately, this is not only normal operating procedures for the Harris County District Attorney's Office - it is a violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

Disciplinary Rule 3.06 (d) reads:

(d) After discharge of the jury from further consideration of a matter with which the lawyer was connected, the lawyer shall not ask questions of or make comments to a member of that jury that are calculated merely to harass or embarrass the juror or to influence his actions in future jury service.

Hmmm, seems to me that the statements attributed to Harris County Assistant D.A. Doug Richards fit that bill nicely. For example, "The jurors say Doug Richards told them, "You have violated your oath as jurors today," before he walked out of the jury room after the trial last week."

"He broke into a tirade about the strength of his case, and that we had screwed up," Yules [ a juror in the case] said . . . "He said we ignored the facts. Then he turned around and stomped out."

"He didn't like our verdict and he lost control," said juror Juanita A. Byers.

"He said we ignored the laws and the facts" said jury foreman Terri Hebert who, like her two colleagues, said she found the remarks "offensive."

Unfortunately, this is de rigeur in Harris County. Prosecutors here routinely admonish jurors who acquit as to why they were wrong, what evidence was not allowed to come in, the defendant's criminal history, etc. Clearly, this violates another rule: that they should not communicate with jurors in a way calculated to prejudice the jurors potential future jury service. But no prosecutor in Texas has ever been punished for this activity by the Texas State Bar.

Civil attorneys have been disciplined by the State Bar for exactly this sort of behavior. Yet prosecutors are given a free pass. Why? Why are prosecutors protected by the State Bar when their conduct involves harassing jurors and tampering with the jury system?

Perhaps Mr. Richards misconduct has become so public that it will have to result in some sanctions. We can only hope so. Those who seek to prosecute others must be held to the highest ethical and legal standards if the legal system is to retain a shred of respectability.

3 Comments:

At 4:03 PM, Anonymous tab said...

Richards' conduct was despicable. He should be ashamed of himself.

 
At 8:38 PM, Blogger Mary Elizabeth Conn said...

I doubt that the State Bar in Texas will ever discipline prosecutors. Never have. I sat on a grievance committee for three terms, saw one, exactly one, prosecutor brought in. I'm probably forbidden to provide details. I had one try to punch me once. Pretty funny - the bailiff pulled him back and took him to cool off. I had one, claimed to be a witness in a case, lie through her teeth against a defense attorney defendant, during trial, hoping to be re-hired by the Harris County DA's office, which she had left. They re-hired her. and there are some real decent folk there, just doing their jobs; I still have friends there. I miss the good ones.

 
At 7:04 PM, Blogger GalvestonLawyer said...

I have had this very thing happen in cases before. Last year, after getting an aquittal in a DWI case, I learned from one of the jurors that the prosecutor accosted the erstwile jury after the verdict, telling them things like: "You just let a drunk driver go--I hope it's not one of your children he kills when he finally crashes his car into an innocent victim", etc. Very offensive, not to mention against the rules. Maybe defense lawyers should start reporting these violations. In fact, I believe we are under a duty to do so.

 

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