Attorneys for Ray Lemes, whose murder trial was derailed when a member of his jury was found to have conducted outside legal research, said Thursday the errant juror should be held accountable — with a fine or possibly even jail.
Lemes had been on trial for five days for the 2007 shooting death of a college student in the street in front of his home, and the jury had been deliberating for almost seven hours when the foreman sent a note to state District Judge Lori Valenzuela stating that one member had independently looked up the legal definitions of murder and manslaughter.
Judges always warn jurors before and during trials that outside research is prohibited. Valenzuela granted the defense's motion for a mistrial.
Defense attorney Michael Sawyer said immediately after the mistrial that the unidentified juror probably meant well. But on Thursday, a starkly different tone emerged in a motion for contempt of court filed by his co-counsel and brother, Joe James Sawyer.
“To allow this juror to ... violate the court's orders and instruction without punishment will send a message to every juror that they can improperly influence or prevent judicial process and that there are no consequences to said activity,” the filing states.
The Sawyers asked that an arrest warrant or summons be issued for the juror to appear at a contempt of court hearing. The attorneys plan to ask that the juror be sent to jail or fined $25,000 to help defray Lemes' costs at the eventual murder retrial that both they and prosecutors expect.
At a minimum, the Sawyers asked for the juror's name so they can file a civil suit.
“I'm furious,” Joe James Sawyer said. “My client may have to sell his house to secure a defense team again. I've never had this happen before. I'm determined to never see this happen again.”
First assistant district attorney Cliff Herberg declined to say whether his office would support a contempt request. If the juror is fined, however, the judge might have a different view of how the money should be used, he said, pointing out that taxpayers also lost money.
Jury pay for the five-day trial was about $2,000. There are also costs of flying witnesses in from out of town and paying police officers overtime to testify.
Valenzuela has not ruled on the motion or indicated whether she will entertain a hearing on the matter.
“I'm just disappointed,” she said Thursday. “I'm not angry, but it violated (Lemes') right to a fair trial, and it violated the integrity of the entire system.”
Judges have the ability to impose sentences of up to 6 months in jail for contempt of court.
While it would be surprising if Valenzuela ordered a $25,000 fine, such mistrials can pose serious risks to a defendant, said St. Mary's University law professor Geary Reamey.
“The defense would cost at least in the tens of thousands of dollars just for the attorneys fees in a case like that,” he said. “There's a real question about whether the defendant can afford to finance another trial.
“There are a lot of collateral consequences to jury misconduct — it's not a trivial matter at all.”
By Craig Kapitan, By Craig Kapitanб firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: San Antonio Express