A drug trial in Florida earlier this year ended in a mistrial after the judge discovered that nine jurors had ignored instructions not to do their own research online. Increasingly, jurors are conducting Google searches on defendants, digging evidence that may have been intentionally excluded, and checking Wikipedia for definitions of legal terms.
This new phenomenon scares judges so much that legal experts have created a new term: “Google mistrials.”
Retrials are expensive and can create a blacklog. But more importantly, when jurors do their own sleuthing, it can undermine the justice system and deprive dependants of a fair trial. Prior convictions are generally not admissible in court, yet if jurors Google a DUI defendant they might discover that the defendant has a history of prior convictions and that can taint their opinion. Of course, that information could be incomplete or completely inaccurate. It’s an issue that lawyers and judges will be facing more and more as an increasing number of jurors become tech-savvy.
A recent article in the Panama City News Herald brings up an issue that our criminal defense law firm has noticed for years: the “death burden.” That is, the tendency of jurors to convict defendants in more serious cases such as murder as compared with crimes such as DUI or domestic violence.
As the article correctly points out, jurors in county court, where DUI and domestic violence are common cases, tend to empathize with the defendant, perhaps thinking back to an incident when they might have gotten charged with a similar crime themselves. In circuit court, on the other hand, defendants are convicted at a higher rate, despite the fact the burned of proof in both misdemeanor and felony trials are the same (beyond a reasonable doubt). And in both scenarios, jurors are told that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.
This issue highlights why it’s so important for those charged with a crime to choose an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure the best possible legal counsel. A skilled lawyer knows how to handle this challenge and build a persuasive case.
Source: The little courtroom: County court is where trial attorneys are made, NewsHerald.com, October 31, 2009 (more…)
Broward County Traffic Defense Attorney Brian S. Leifert has just learned that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office will be unleashing their latest weapon in an effort to better enforce local traffic rules. The Sheriff’s Office will be utilizing at least one new Dodge Challenger R/T (pictured below) hoping to curb aggressive and reckless driving around Broward County.
As noted in a recent St. Petersburgh Times article, Florida has the highest rate in the nation of locking up children for life even when the crime did not result in death. The state also transfers more children to the adult prison system and tries more juveniles as adults. At its highest point in the mid-nineties, Florida had around eight thousand transfers.
Burglary was the crime that most commonly got juvenile offenders into the adult justice system. Florida is among the 15 states that give prosecutors “direct file,” that is, the ability to put juveniles into adult court at their discretion. Florida statutes dictate that for certain violent crimes, like murder, prosecutors must direct file or seek indictment. Aside from those cases, prosecutors generally look at the defendant’s circumstances, particularly when they are a repeat offender, to determine if they should be charged as adults.
Despite high crime rates in the 1990’s, Miami Dade County is now seen as a national model for effective juvenile justice, because the county focuses on getting services for first-time offenders based on needs rather than their crimes.
Source: Florida leads nation in locking up kids in adult jails, TampaBay.com, November 12, 2009 (more…)
Florida Criminal Lawyers