In the American justice system, trial by a jury of one’s peers is a constitutional right having iconic significance. But two recent white-collar criminal trials in New York have cast doubt on the integrity of jury verdicts.
Martha Stewart was convicted of lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission about a questionable stock trade and the evidence of her guilt seemed compelling. She seeks a new trial, however, because during jury selection a juror, Chappell Hartridge, apparently did not disclose that he had previously been arrested and had faced an unproven, unreported allegation that he had stolen from a junior baseball team.
Jury verdicts are supposed to be immune from post-verdict inquiries raising questions about the conduct of individual jurors. But this one is quite troubling. Had the juror disclosed his brush with the law, he may have been challenged successfully and removed from the panel. Ironically, his sin of lying is no more venial than that of Stewart. The trial court rejected Stewart’s argument, and an appellate panel will eventually decide whether the juror’s misconduct tainted the verdict.
Ruth Jordan, 79, the notorious Juror No 4 in the mistrial of Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive officer of Tyco, said after a six-month trial involving 47 witnesses and 700 exhibits in evidence that she was unconvinced that the defendants knew they were committing a crime. Eleven members of the panel were for conviction, but Jordan’s obduracy caused a hung jury, and the case will probably need to be retried.
The link in the two court cases goes beyond jury irregularity. Both Stewart and Kozlowski claimed that they did not think they were doing anything improper. In lawyer’s terms, they are saying that they acted without the appropriate criminal intent. This is a subjective state with which one commits an act. It is a necessary element of any crime. If someone strikes someone else with a car (as Stewart did once to a gardener with whom she had had an altercation) it makes a big difference in contemplation of law whether the act was accidental or purposeful. If the former, there may lie a civil suit for damages. If the latter, there may be a charge of criminal assault.