Having citizens serve on juries is one way in which the court system preserves the rights of an accused individual who is entitled to a trial by a jury of his or her peers. This method allows average people to weigh in on a person’s behavior or criminal activity and helps to ensure the decisions made are based on facts, evidence, and testimony presented. Jurors therefore must be selected from a pool of unbiased candidates so that the most accurate and fair resolution can be reached.
As one juror in New Jersey recently learned, a lie or omission during jury selection can land you on the other side of the courtroom. Earlier this year, Wacoa Stanford of Newark, New Jersey, was indicted on charges of perjury after she concealed evidence that pointed to a conflict of interest in her background.
Stanford was one of the jurors at the trial of Travis Hartsfield Jr. In March 2011, Hartsfield was charged with murdering his daughter, Asiyah Hartsfield, after he allegedly punched the 20-month-old girl in the chest, causing internal bleeding. The jury returned with a guilty verdict in the case last fall and Hartsfield was sentenced to life in prison.
During voir dire, Stanford did not bring up the fact that she had a disorderly persons conviction on her criminal record. At that time, she also failed to mention that she had had a run-in with the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).
In a press release after the trial, it was reported that Stanford discussed the DYFS investigation during jury deliberations and the other jurors felt that this had “unduly influenc[ed] her ability to be fair” about the Hartsfield case. A juror told the judge about the incident. When he questioned Stanford, she denied bringing up the investigation but 10 of the other jurors confirmed that she had and she was removed for misconduct. However, the judge did not grant a mistrial.
In the selection process for the Hartsfield case, potential jurors had been asked about their experiences with DYFS because two of the witnesses in the trial were employees. Stanford did not reveal her experiences. Additionally, a standard question for New Jersey criminal court jurors is: “Have you or any family member or close friend ever been accused of committing an offense other than a minor motor vehicle offense?”
Stanford did not respond accurately to either question, which could have compromised the entire trial. She has been charged with three instances of false swearing—two during voir dire and one from her denial to the judge.
Because of Stanford’s actions, Hartsfield may be able to appeal his conviction and cite juror misconduct. If this motion is approved, he could be granted a new trial and given a fresh chance to defend himself.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent defendants and convicts whose cases may have been compromised due to juror misconduct or any other complication. To discuss your case and your options for appeal, contact a New Jersey criminal lawyer at HCK today.