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Parties and their families should not talk to jurors

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Lawyers should warn their clients, and their clients’ relatives, friends and employees against talking to the jurors in the clients’ case. That was highlighted this week when Virginia’s Court of Appeal okayed a trial judge’s dismissal of a murder trial juror, after the juror informed the judge that a woman with the defendant’s party told the juror after lunch that the woman’s grandparents lived down the street from the juror. Brown v. Va., ___ Va. App. __ (Nov. 4, 2014).

The prosecutor on days two and three of this three-day trial moved for the removal of the juror, arguing that the foregoing encounter could taint the juror’s ability solely to focus on the facts and the law in the case, raising the possibility that the juror would worry about being easily found and retaliated against in the event of a guilty verdict. The trial judge ultimately removed the juror before the start of jury deliberations, over the defendant’s objection.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals said that the case law mandates that any reasonable doubt as to a juror’s qualifications to serve on a jury must be resolved in favor of the criminally accused, but that said rule does not apply to whether to remove a juror who has already been seated.