Juror Abuse at the Hands of the State: A Case Study
Recently, someone emailed Jurygeek an appalling story from the Houston Chronicle. Seems a newly minted prosecutor in Harris County, Texas lost a jury trial in the 232nd District Court. His reaction was not to suck it up and take it as a learning experience, but to throw an infantile temper tantrum accusing the jurors of breaking the law. Unfortunately, this is not only normal operating procedures for the Harris County District Attorney's Office - it is a violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
Disciplinary Rule 3.06 (d) reads:
(d) After discharge of the jury from further consideration of a matter with which the lawyer was connected, the lawyer shall not ask questions of or make comments to a member of that jury that are calculated merely to harass or embarrass the juror or to influence his actions in future jury service.
Hmmm, seems to me that the statements attributed to Harris County Assistant D.A. Doug Richards fit that bill nicely. For example, "The jurors say Doug Richards told them, "You have violated your oath as jurors today," before he walked out of the jury room after the trial last week."
"He broke into a tirade about the strength of his case, and that we had screwed up," Yules [ a juror in the case] said . . . "He said we ignored the facts. Then he turned around and stomped out."
"He didn't like our verdict and he lost control," said juror Juanita A. Byers.
"He said we ignored the laws and the facts" said jury foreman Terri Hebert who, like her two colleagues, said she found the remarks "offensive."
Unfortunately, this is de rigeur in Harris County. Prosecutors here routinely admonish jurors who acquit as to why they were wrong, what evidence was not allowed to come in, the defendant's criminal history, etc. Clearly, this violates another rule: that they should not communicate with jurors in a way calculated to prejudice the jurors potential future jury service. But no prosecutor in Texas has ever been punished for this activity by the Texas State Bar.
Civil attorneys have been disciplined by the State Bar for exactly this sort of behavior. Yet prosecutors are given a free pass. Why? Why are prosecutors protected by the State Bar when their conduct involves harassing jurors and tampering with the jury system?
Perhaps Mr. Richards misconduct has become so public that it will have to result in some sanctions. We can only hope so. Those who seek to prosecute others must be held to the highest ethical and legal standards if the legal system is to retain a shred of respectability.