Imagine being placed on trial for a criminal charge, not only are you under an extreme amount of pressure and anxiety during the time of the trial, but you also are asked to do something that is unheard of in the practice of criminal law: Going before the jury after deliberations have begun. Normally, once a jury has begun deliberations, defendants are not subjected to the presence of the jury because the trial is complete and all the evidence has been presented before the court. By allowing such a practice, the defendant can be subjected to great prejudicial suspicion which can lead to a wrongful conviction.
This scenario is exemplified in a criminal case from Mobile County, Alabama, in the case of Harris v. State of Alabama. In the present case, Geranda Harris (“Harris”) was convicted of third-degree burglary. At trial, video surveillance and photographs taken from the video were shown to the jury that exhibited an individual breaking into a liquor store and stealing 12 bottles of liquor.
Harris argued that the individual in the video surveillance and photographs were not him. During opening and closing statements, defense counsel asserted that the individual in the video was larger than Harris was. Specifically in defense counsel’s opening statements, counsel asked the jury to pay close attention to the physique depicted in the video and to compare it to the physique of the Harris.
After jury deliberations began, the jury sent a note to the judge asking: “Can we take a closer look at the defendant and/ or use a picture, hold it up in one hand while doing so?” The trial court allowed the jury to return to the courtroom and instructed Harris, the defendant, to stand in front of them. Harris objected. The jury found convicted Harris for burglary and, Harris appealed.
Harris argued that trial courts acceptance of jury’s request and making him stand in front of the jury was equivalent to that of reopening the case. Harris relied heavily on Carver v. State. Carver v. State, 52, So. 3d 570, 573 (Ala. Crim. App. 2000). There, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction because after it began deliberations the jury asked (and was permitted) to view the defendant arms, which were not visible during trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the display of his arms constituted as non-testimonial physical evidence and rendered the presentation of the arms to be improper.
Here, the State relied on the fact that this evidence had already been submitted to the jury. In fact, the State furthers that the defense counsel had harped on this evidence in their opening and closing statements. Thus, the State argued that this situation was akin to those in which a jury is permitted to review evidence that it already has before it. However, the State looked overlooked important applicable case law.
In Ex Parte Batteaste, 449 So. 2d 798 (Ala. 1984), it was held that the rule allowing a jury to review evidence that has already been presented does not apply when that evidence relates to the person of the defendant. Therefore, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the trial court erred in overruling the objection.
This case exemplifies the importance of making timely objections in trial court. When a case is appealed to an appellate court, the court may only look at the record before it. Meaning, the appellate court will not have access to any information that is not brought before the trial court.
If defense counsel had failed to make a timely objection, it is likely that the Harris would still be convicted of the same crime today. One should seek out an experienced criminal law attorney who studies and reviews the rules of evidence consistently to ensure that their client is not wrongfully convicted.