THE REASONS why a jury of nine men and three women here found a local man not guilty of second degree murder may never be readily known.
That’s because compared to the American court system where jury members, once their duty is finished, are even known to take part in press conferences, the situation is much different in Canada.
All that’s known in the trial of Travis Stephens, charged with the 2013 second degree murder in the shooting death of Eric Cardinal, is that the jury spent the better part of three days from March 20 to March 22 deliberating that charge before finding him not guilty.
Those deliberations followed a week-long trial the previous week.
The same jury did find Stephens guilty of the attempted murder and aggravated assault of another individual connected to the same circumstances resulting in Cardinal’s death.
In the Canadian court system, whereas a judge may release the reasons for his or her judgment, the jury deliberations are kept secret.
And jury members are bound by law not to speak to anyone about anything said in the jury room while deliberating.
“It’s a longstanding practice that jurors’ deliberations inside the room would be kept secret so there couldn’t be any public pressure put on them after they left the jury room [about their decision],” said University of Victoria law professor Gerry Ferguson in general comments.
“It seems to be a form of protecting them from any blowback.”
It’s also to not allow the jurors to be harassed, he added.
The problem with letting jury members express their opinions is that jurors might begin talking without putting sufficient thought into their words and it might sound like there was some undue influence or impropriety on the part of another juror, said Ferguson.
“So if the jurors spoke after the fact, it might provide some grounds for an appeal,” he said.
Another concern would be a misrepresentation of what was said or done.
But there are downsides to not allowing jurors to speak.
First of all, academics cannot study how the jurors made their decisions because they can’t do confidential studies of the jurors, said Ferguson.
The Canadian Criminal Code clearly states that it’s an offence to try to obtain information from a juror and an offence for them to disclose information, he added.
So there’s no way to find out how juries operate, what factors are important to them, if race or gender makes any difference and how significantly they treated the expert evidence, said Ferguson.
And another downside is that if the jurors did in fact act improperly for whatever reason, thee is virtually no way of knowing that unless some juror breaks silence and says other jurors seemed to be influenced by an issue or that they had enough of jury duty and wanted to be done and go home.
A judge can’t do anything about a jury’s decision but crown or defence counsel can appeal the jury’s decision although on appeal, they still can’t find out what the jury said or did, said Ferguson.
In appeal court, the only way to have a different outcome to a case is if the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of a conviction that no reasonable jury could’ve come to that decision; or for the lawyer to say the trial judge misdirected the jury on some important piece of the law or evidence during the jury instructions, said Ferguson.
“Whatever the verdict was in this case, if the judge is unhappy with it, he has nothing more to say or do other than he should thank the jury,” said Ferguson.
After the Stephens’ jury announced its decisions in the court late in the afternoon of March 22, Mister Justice Robert Punnett of the B.C. Supreme Court, the trial judge, did thank them and dismiss them.