Legal eagles...a question about the Robert Blake jury...

Are jurors allowed to voice opinions on other crimes they believe the defendant committed, or are they legally bound to discuss only the crime he or she is accused of?

In other words, if I were on the jury, would I be allowed to say that I would vote for acquital because although I thought he ordered the murder done, he had not committed the actual murder as charged?

It probably depends on the charge given the jury by the judge. If I recall correctly from my extensive legal education (ie: Law & Order reruns), the judge may instruct the jury about “lesser included offenses”, giving them the option, for example, of convicting for manslaughter instead of murder. However, the judge may tell them that they are to consider only the crime of which the defendant is charged. I believe this is frequently the subject of intense negotiations between the various parties.

“Other crimes they believe the defendant committed”?

You mean, like The Money Train?

As a disclaimer, the only criminal law experience I have is the pro bono work I do for family members.

BrotherCadfael is correct: what the jury can do depends entirely on the jury instructions that were read to them. Typically, the two sides get together and try to agree on jury instructions. Disagreements are decided by the judge. The jury is supposed to be bound by those instructions and isn’t supposed to ignore them (either to convict someone of something he didn’t do, or to “nullify” and refuse to convict a guilty defendant). So if the instructions require the state to prove that Blake both ordered the murder and committed it himself, and the jury finds only that Blake ordered it, he would be acquitted.

But remember that celebrity trials in LA are a breed apart. You can never tell what’s going to happen.

Around the water cooler, we refer to L&O as “my favorite documentary series.”

Thanks for the answers, guys. I was trying to envision what I’d be saying to the other jurors if I was on the jury and they wanted to convict. I believe Blake ordered the hit, but I don’t think he killed her himself. Given that set of circumstances, I don’t think that, from a legal and moral standpoint, it would be right to vote to convict him of killing her himself, as he has been charged with doing. On the other hand, if I were the only holdout and explaining my POV were prohibited, how would I tell the other jurors my reasoning when they wanted to argue that I should vote guilty?

It appears to me that this could be the kind of thing that could result in a hung jury, with no one on the jury knowing exactly why it was hung. I would think this would be most frustrating for the jury members, and that was the basis for my question.

Thanks again.

So…do they keep ya busy?


In most states, probably all, if he was part of a conspiracy to commit murder, he’s an accomplice and is as guilty of her murder as the guy who pulled the trigger. In Texas he’d be even worse off; if he’d merely shot her himself he’d be guilty of first degree murder, but if he employed someone to murder her, they’d both be guilty of capital murder and eligible for the death penalty.

To answer the OP (which I think has not been done yet), a juror is free to discuss whatever he wants with the other jurors during deliberations. In my experience (as a juror), you may not discuss the case until the trial part is over and deliberations begin, then you can say anything you want.

The answers so far have been regarding what kind of verdict the jury can return, which is a different question.

But you have to differentiate between what the jury can discuss and what it is proper for them to be discussing. The jury should consider only the admissable evidence that has been presented to them and the allowable inferences that arise from that evidence. Evidence of other crimes the defendant may have committed is inadmissable as evidence in many circumstances, and the judge will instruct the jury to disregard that evidence if it is improperly introduced and not to consider it for any purpose whatsoever. In that circumstance, the jury can discuss it in deliberations, but only because there’s nobody in the jury room to prevent them from doing so. It is improper for them to be doing so, however.

To more fully answer the op, evidence of other crimes the defendant may have committed is inadmissable in many circumstances because the jury is only supposed to consider whether or not the defendant committed the crime for which he is bieng tried, and not for being a criminal generally. However, some crimes the defendant may have committed may have a bearing on making that determination. One such instance is that any witness, including the defendant, may be asked about any felonies they may have commited (or misdemeanors involving “moral turpitude”), because the jury is allowed to make the inference that a felon may be less truthful than a non-felon. The primary rule of evidence determining when other crimes may be relevant to determining that the defendant comitted the crime in question is Federal Rule of Evidence 404 (b):

That probably needs further explanation, but I have to skedaddle at the moment. I’ll go into more detail later if someone doesn’t beat me to it.

Can the jury agree to base their decision on the flip of a coin?

(I’m assuming you know the decision I’m talking about…)

Since Blake has been charged with both “murder” and “solicitation to commit murder”, I don’t understand why you think that “ordering the murder done” isn’t among the crimes of which he is accused.

True. Before the jury is sent to deliberate (i.e., during trial), jurors are told not to form opinions about the case and not to discuss the case. Once they’re sent out to deliberate, they can and should discuss the evidence. Matters not presented in evidence likely will still be discussed (typically, opinions about the lawyers), but a good foreperson will keep the jury on track.

No, but good luck getting a court to permit you to look into the “black box” of a jury verdict and prove that the jurors misbehaved. It’s a very high standard to meet and sometimes, for purely technical reasons, even if you have evidence of juror misconduct the court won’t entertain it. Not my area, so someone with more knowledge can likely flesh that out.

Good to know. If he’s been charged with both, and evidence has been presented as to both, likely the jury will discuss both. But if the OP is asking, when can the jury discuss crimes that aren’t charged in this trial, the answer is:

But this goes to admissibility; the judge makes the determination whether the evidence is admissible. If the jury hears the evidence (and it isn’t stricken by the judge), then the jury can consider it. The bigger issue here is that the jury is entitled to determine the weight to give the evidence. If, for example, the state provides evidence that Mr. Blake was convicted of soliciting his girlfriend’s murder in 1995, the jury will likely give that more weight in considering his guilt than they would if the prosecutor introduced evidence that Mr. Blake had been convicted of, say, tampering with the mail for trying to retrieve a letter he placed in a mailbox.

In any case, if Blake has been charged with both murder and solicitation, the jury could convict on the solicitation but not the murder. Leaving the “real murderer” out there somewhere. Maybe he can get a group deal with OJ and Scott Peterson for a tip line. :smiley:

Thankfully, my criminal practice is very slow right now. I have to tell you, nothing more scary than getting a phone call at eight o’clock at night from a teenage relative: “So, I’ve got this court thing in the morning . . . .”

Right you are – and it’s come up in the Ninth Circuit this past month - Reyes v. Seifert, I think the case was styled.

Typically, the jury is instructed they may consider 404(b) evidence - prior bad acts - only for limited purposes, such as credibility of the witness. They typically may NOT consider a prior conviction as evidence that the accused acted in corformity therewith this time.

Well, the answer, though embarrassing, is simple. I wasn’t aware he was charged with “solicitation to commit murder.”

(I presume you’re certain about this. Admittedly, I haven’t been following the case that closely, but I don’t believe I’ve heard or read anything at any time about the solicitation charge.)

Oh, and thanks also to everyone else who has posted an answer her since last night. I appreciate the information.