Monday, January 15, 2007

Nebraska Supreme Court reverses fatal shooting case from Douglas County when bailiff advised dissenting juror that the jury might be deliberating indefinitely if she did not agree to convict the defendant; Supreme Court however finds no Batson violation when the State’s explanation for striking a Black juror was that he attended a “Christian” school. State v. Floyd, 272 Neb. 898 Filed January 12, 2007. No. S-05-1376. Defendant on trial for murder and attempted murder for shooting a pregnant victim who was not his intended target. The jury agreed to convict the defendant of being a felon in possession of a firearm, but one jury refused to convict him of murder and unborn manslaughter. Although the dissenting juror and the bailiff gave different accounts of their discussions, the Supreme Court reverses because the bailiff ventured into trial procedure when answering the juror’s question about what would happen if the juror did not agree to the verdict. Defendant also raised a Batson challenge to two of the State's strikes, and the State responded that one African American juror who attended a "Christian Academy." Nebraska Supreme Court found this explanation was not race based and enough to rebut the Defendant's prima facie challenge, further the Defendant did not prove race based discrimination under Batson. “We conclude that the improper communication from the bailiff to the juror would have affected the average juror in a way that would have prejudiced Floyd and denied him a fair trial. In reaching this conclusion, we consider the circumstances surrounding the communication. At the time the communication was made, the jury had been ordered to return to deliberations after it was determined that the jury's verdicts on the murder and manslaughter charges were not unanimous. The communication was made to the juror who was known to be the lone dissenting juror. Either directly or indirectly, the communication focused on the potential effect that the juror's continued dissent would have on the length of deliberations. We determine that the communication could have pressured the average juror to change his or her vote in order to avoid protracted deliberations. Because the communication occurred when the jury was not yet unanimous on the charges of first degree murder and manslaughter of an unborn child, we conclude that the improper communication was prejudicial to Floyd and denied him a fair trial on those charges. We note, however, that the jury was polled prior to the improper communication and that the jury was already unanimous as to Floyd's guilt on the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. We therefore conclude that the improper communication which occurred after the unanimous verdict on the firearm charge had been announced was not prejudicial as to the firearm conviction. Because the improper communication denied Floyd a fair trial on the murder and manslaughter charges, we determine that the district court abused its discretion by failing to grant Floyd a new trial on these convictions. It is therefore necessary to reverse Floyd's convictions on the charges of first degree murder and manslaughter of an unborn child”

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