In State v. Norman, the WA Supreme Court held that it was proper for a trial judge to dismiss a frustrated juror who engaged in self-harm during deliberations. The juror’s punching himself in the face raised legitimate concerns about his ability to deliberate.
Mr. Norman was tried before a jury on first degree burglary and second degree assault. The jury began deliberating at lunchtime. After only a few hours of deliberation, the jury pounded on the door and told court staff they were breaking for the evening. Over half of the jurors left the room before the court clerk arrived. The clerk discovered that during deliberations, juror 9 became overwhelmed and punched himself in the face. After several jurors expressed concern, the trial court questioned juror 9, who answered as follows:
“So yesterday, discussions became very heated, and . . . there were a number of people who had disagreements with me. This caused raising of voices, and I became . . . somewhat overwhelmed. I felt somewhat like—a little bit attacked, and I reacted with an emotional outburst of punching myself in the face. That has happened in the past when I get into high-stress situations. I have self-harmed in the past, but it hasn’t happened in a number of years. That being said, I still consider myself of sound mind and ability to continue going forward with this case.” ~Juror 9
The trial judge spoke to two other juros. They expressed concern over whether they could reach a verdict with juror 9. For example, juror 2 said she felt intimidated by juror 9’s actions. And according to juror 8, juror 9 was “in control of himself” for “80 percent of the day,.” Unfortunately, in the remaining time he “punched himself in the face a couple times and grabbed his hair” in reaction to contentious discussions.
The trial judge dismissed juror 9 for cause.
The reconstituted jury found Norman guilty of one of two counts. The Court of Appeals reversed Norman’s conviction, holding juror 9’s dismissal was improper under the heightened evidentiary standard set forth in State v. Elmore. On appeal, the WA Supreme Court decided the specific issue of whether the trial court abuse its discretion in dismissing juror 9.
COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS
Justice Owens wrote the majority opinion. She began by saying trial judges have a continuous obligation to excuse a juror who has manifested unfitness. This can happen if a juror manifests bias, prejudice, indifference, inattention or any physical or mental defect or by reason of conduct or practices incompatible with proper and efficient jury service. This obligation implicates a defendant’s right to trial by an impartial jury and their right to a unanimous jury verdict.
Next, Justice Owens addressed how the Court of Appeals (COA) reversed Norman’s conviction. In short, the COA held juror 9’s dismissal was improper under the evidentiary standard set forth in State v. Elmore. Justice Owens had some choice words:
“But the Elmore standard applies only where a juror is accused of nullification, refusing to follow the law, or refusing to deliberate. As there was no such accusation here, and the trial court found juror 9’s conduct likely affected the jury’s process of deliberating freely, it did not abuse its discretion in dismissing juror 9.” ~Justice Owens, WA Supreme Court
Consequently, the WA Supreme Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in removing juror 9. His conduct could have impacted the jury’s ability to reach a unanimous verdict. The heightened evidentiary standard does not apply to juror 9’s dismissal because he was not accused of nullification, refusing to deliberate, or refusing to follow the law. With that, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, and affirmed Norman’s conviction.
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