Alabama needs more judges in smaller counties, it is a fact. Some counties only have two criminal jury weeks a month. That results in two to four jury trials a month at best. It is frustrating for a defendant waiting for trials in smaller counties. Usually, trials are placed in order of the oldest being tried first and the more severe cases being tried as opposed to theft cases.
In this most recent case from Elmore County, Alabama, Young and Davis v. State of Alabama, two men were on trial for robbery and burglary. During the jury questionnaire phase, one juror, identified as S.H., stated that she knew one of the defendants. She indicated that although she knew the man, she could be fair and reach a conclusion of innocent or guilt.
The trial started and concluded on a Friday. The alternate jurors were excused with the deliberations to begin on Monday. On Monday, S,.H., the juror who had knowledge of one of the Defendants indicated that she could not reach a conclusion in the case and wanted to be excused. The court had no choice but to release S.H. from the jury.
The court decided on its own initiative to call back one of the alternate jurors who had heard the case. One of the alternate jurors was reached by telephone and agreed to come back on Tuesday and serve on the jury to determine if the men were innocent or guilty.
The court questioned the alternate juror if she had received any information about the case since being released that would her from being fair and reaching a conclusion as to the evidence. The alternate juror concluded that she could be fair.
Obviously, defense counsel objected to the alternate juror who had been excused was allowed to come back for jury deliberations. The defense moved for a mistrial and the court denied the motion.
Both Defendants were found guilty on all counts. The Defendants appealed and the appellate court reversed the case on the grounds for the substitution of a juror.
The appellate court indicated that there was a procedure for when a court may substitute a juror. The trial court must question the alternate juror to determine if she had been subjected to any outside influences that would affect her decision. The trial court did not question the alternate juror in this case enough.
As a practicing lawyer, I understand why the court was trying to prevent having to declare the case a mistrial. It costs a considerable amount of money to try a criminal case in Alabama, from the jurors, to the State of Alabama and defense attorneys. However, speed or costs, should never be the deciding factor when a man's freedom is on the line. It is more important to protect the due process rights of the accused, than rush to a conclusion.
If you are facing a criminal charge, contact criminal defense attorney, Ingram Law LLC, at (205) 335-2640.