No chance of a night on the town

Sequestered jurors have limited access to their families

Sequestered jurors have limited access to their families; may not email, tweet, twitter, text, Facebook or even discuss the trial among themselves; and are forbidden to read or listen to any newspaper, radio, TV, or internet reports of the trial. Which pretty well rules out all media publications since mention of trials of major interest could pop up at any moment.

So how do sequestered jurors amuse themselves between 5 p.m. when court recesses and bedtime, especially if they are assigned individual hotel rooms?

I’ve never served on a jury though once I was summoned. When I reported to the “cattle call” for jury selection, a copy of the local newspaper hugged under one arm, I was waved on through into the parking lot.

At the time, I was miffed by my swift rejection, and disappointed to miss out on a unique experience, fodder for a column, but after following trials that have gone on for months, I thank my interest in current events for sparing me from a potentially tedious trial as well as any possibility of sequestration, surely a numbing existence.

When a jury is sequestered the judge places them beyond public reach during the time the court is not in session. As a group they are transported to a hotel each day after court recesses, where they eat together, perhaps in a separate dining area, and are held at all times under the watchful eye of a deputy sheriff (I watch American trials; Canadian trials are seldom if ever followed live on TV or internet) until they are transported back to the courthouse for the next day’s session.

The purpose of sequestration is to keep them apart from any information that may sway their opinion, and isolate them from anyone who might seek to buy them off or intimidate them, until such time as a verdict has been brought in or the jury has declared they are hung, unable to agree whether the defendant is guilty or  innocent.

Trial publicity, public sentiment, interested parties, and the maneuverings and machinations of lawyers outside the courtroom can all taint the jurors’ objectivity and deny the defendant a fair trial. Judges are free to sequester the jury whenever they believe any of these factors may affect the trial’s outcome.

Because sequestration can be such a hardship on jurors, both physically and emotionally stressful, it is seldom used. The practice is also prohibitively expensive . In the California trial of the doctor accused of killing Michael Jackson, the prospect of sequestering the jury was ruled out due to its exorbitant cost.

Aside from cost, judges tend to be considerate of their juries, as evidenced by Judge Debra Nelson in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman, currently in its final stages.

July 3, the day before the U.S. Independence Day holiday, Zimmerman’s defence asked the judge to cancel court Friday, July 5, to allow them to take a deposition from a witness. That would have left the jurors sequestered over the four-day holiday weekend accomplishing nothing.

Because Zimmerman’s lawyers had known since June 3 they needed to depose their witness but had made no prior request for the judge to recess court early any afternoon to give them extra time to do so, Judge Nelson refused to grant their postponement request. Trial went ahead July 5.

If jurors are sequestered for weeks, they may be escorted to entertainment, still monitored at all times by deputy sheriffs. Although what entertainment venues they could attend without risking hearing or reading something pertaining to their trial I can’t imagine. Would it be a Rolling Stones Concert? An air show? A rodeo? An NHL playoff game?



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