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Juror misconduct may lead to mistrial in drug case

When Tampa residents are assigned to a jury in a high-profile criminal trial, the judge usually instructs them not to read or watch news reports about the case. One idea behind this legal principle is that evidence that was not allowed in court may be reported, causing jurors to become prejudiced and compromising the defendant's right to a fair trial. When a juror is discovered to have disobeyed this important instruction, the judge may have to order a mistrial.

This could be the result in a recent federal drug case in Tampa. The defendant in the trial was reggae singer Buju Banton. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. But revelations by a journalist who interviewed jurors following the trial raised serious issues of juror misconduct, which could cause the conviction to be overturned.

In a recording the journalist made in one interview, a juror said that during the trial, she would take her notes from the day home and "do the research." The "research" appears to have been into Banton's music and a federal law related to conspiracy charges. Though the juror later claimed that she did not do the outside research until after the trial, another juror recalled hearing a juror discussing the law with two other jurors. However, the juror reportedly discussing the law was said to be white and the juror in the journalist's recording is black.

Banton's defense attorneys have filed a motion to declare a mistrial based on this possible misconduct. One of his attorneys said that the jury may have been about to vote to dismiss the drug charges until the accused juror shared what she had found about the conspiracy law. A decision on the motion is pending.

Source: The Tampa Tribune, "Buju Banton's defense alleges juror misconduct in mistrial request," Elaine Silvestrini, Dec. 20, 2012

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