Appellate judges in New Jersey threw out a murder conspiracy conviction last week, ruling that the physical fights between the jurors compromised the entire case, especially the verdict that the jury returned. Violence and physical altercations have no place in a jury deliberation, and law firms in New Jersey agree that the verdict returned could have been forced through fear, intimidation, or outright viciousness between the dissenting parties. The appellate court’s decision upholds the priority the state’s courts place on the jury process and the importance of a true decision based only on the facts of the trial.
According to the appellate panel of judges, the “physical violence between jurors during deliberations is toxic to the environment of rational discourse we associate with the deliberative process and fundamentally inconsistent with any notion of ordered liberty.” The fights compromised the jurors’ ability to come to an informed, logical decision on the murder conspiracy charges, and in turn compromised the entire case. In New Jersey, those selected to sit on the jury must comply with the civility code, which requires that they each act in a respectful, courteous, and polite way, even if they disagree with other members of the jury.
In the case in question, Wedpens Dorsainvil was charged with several crimes—including conspiracy to commit murder—in the 2006 death of Jamilah Payne, a 16-year-old who was shot and then flung from a window on the fourth floor of a building. In 2009, at the trial, the jury came to a stalemate, unable to reach an agreement about the verdict for Dorsainvil. At that point, they sent a note to Union County Superior Court Judge Stuart Peim, who oversaw the trial, saying that they were “hopelessly deadlocked.” Peim asked them to continue deliberating in the hopes that they could reach an agreement without “violence to individual judgment.”
According to the appellate judges, this exhortation, along with Peim’s later method of lining up the jurors against a wall and instructing them to be respectful to each other, only exacerbated the tense situation, which came to a head when two female jurors got into a heated argument. The court officers also admonished the team, suggesting that they not shout at each other or get physical. Peim then called each juror into his office individually to determine whether they could honestly vote on the verdict. One juror replied that he or she could not do so, after being slapped in the deliberation room, and another said that he or she could, but that it would be “extremely difficult for the jury to do that.”
You have the right to a fair trial by a jury of your peers. If your trial has been compromised in any way, including violence or dissension among the jury, and you think it has negatively affected your verdict, contact the attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey law firm with expertise in the areas of criminal defense and appellate court. We will go over your case and determine whether your rights have been violated, and what your best course of action will be to get your charges reversed, or to secure you a new trial.