411: The Jodi Arias Case (with a Focus on Recent Jury Selection Problems)

May. 31st, 2013   /   ,

 

Two summers ago, the captivating courtroom drama that rattled the airwaves for weeks was the murder trial of Casey Anthony, the Central Florida young mother (dubbed “Tot Mom” by Nancy Grace) who was accused of murdering her young daughter. The jury was unable to affirm – beyond any reasonable doubt – that Anthony had in fact murdered her daughter, hence their rendering of a “Not Guilty” verdict to the delight of Anthony and her attorneys yet much to the dismay of the prosecution and many of the millions of people across the globe that had become fascinated with the trial.

This summer, the courtroom focus of the public has been Jodi Arias, a young Arizona woman who was accused of brutally murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander.  Like Casey Anthony’s, the Arias’ recollection of the events surrounding the death of the victim in the case changed as time went on. First, Arias claim that someone else murdered her ex-boyfriend, and then she claimed that she murdered him, but only in self-defense. While Anthony’s and Arias’ stories developed in a semi-congruent manner, the results of their trials were entirely different. Whereas Anthony was found “Not Guilty,” the jury in the Jodi Arias case decided unanimously and beyond any reasonable doubt that she was, in fact, “Guilty.”

Then came the next part: the penalty phase, in which the same jury that convicted her of first degree murder had to decide first whether the murder was “especially cruel” and, if they agreed that it was, whether or not Arias’ punishment should be life in prison or the death penalty. After 13 hours of deliberations, the 12 jurors in the Arias case – the eight men and four women who found her guilty of first-degree murder – announced that they were unable to reach a decision as to her fate. Apparently, eight of the jurors felt she deserved death while the remaining four thought she “deserved” life in prison.

So, because of this “hung” jury, because Arizona law stipulates that a unanimous decision is needed to hand-down the death penalty, a new jury is required for a retrial to determine whether or not Arias will get the death penalty, assuming that the prosecution still wants to seek that penalty. Here comes a major problem: the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution mandates that in a criminal prosecution, the accused must enjoy a “speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” Perhaps the most important word there is “impartial.” It is constitutionally required that the jury in a criminal case be “impartial” – unbiased, fair and candid.

Remember, the original jury for this case – the one that found Arias guilty – was selected and instructed to ignore relevant media coverage of the case before the case became a media spectacle. Thus, despite the constant media coverage and near-ubiquitous discussion of the facts of the case, the jurors were able to remain unbiased and impartial because they were forbidden from watching, discussing or listening to anything relating to the case. Now, though, because of the omnipresent buzz of the Arias case, it seems that hardly anyone (aside from the original jurors) will be able to be an impartial juror. Practically anyone who has seen coverage of the case or who has watched various legal experts give their take on the case has been tainted by their opinion and will be unable to be an impartial juror. The people of Arizona – and of the world, for that mater – have seen the case unfold on television hand surely have developed some sort of opinion on the trial and the players involved. Thus, they would be unable to immerse themselves impartially in the case by being selected for the new jury.

Thus, as the attorneys now face the hard task of deciding upon a new jury for the penalty phase of this case, they will have an exceedingly difficult time maintaining the constitutional right of Jodi Arias, the accused, to an “impartial” jury.

For any questions relating to this or any other legal issue, please reach out to us at the Law Offices of Aronberg and Aronberg by calling us at 561-266-9191 or emailing us at daronberg#aronberglaw.com.

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