Serving as a juror at the trial for your own crime

Today in my German class we read Heinrich von Kleist’s story “Sonderbarer Rechtsfall in England” (A Strange Legal Case in England). The story is very short—only two paragraphs—and deals with the trial of a man accused of murder. Eleven of the twelve jurors are convinced of his guilt, but the twelfth is adamant that he is innocent, and so, tiring of the deadlock, the jury eventually votes to acquit. The twelfth juror later reveals that he knew the defendant to be innocent because the juror himself was the killer, though the death was an accident and not murder. He had not come forward earlier because there were no witnesses to the homicide and so didn’t want to risk a conviction himself, and when another man was wrongly accused, serving as a juror allowed him to ensure that the defendant would be acquitted.

I’d like to know if anything like this has ever happened in real life. That is, has the actual perpetrator of a crime ever had the serendipity of serving as a juror for its trial? (Of course, unlike in von Kleist’s story, if his involvement in the crime were subsequently revealed, a mistrial would almost certainly be declared.) If so, and the conflict of interest was not revealed until after a verdict was rendered, did they honestly vote to acquit, or did they selfishly vote to convict in order to peg their crime on an innocent man?

I’m puzzled by this. If the real killer is identified, surely the innocent guy who was tried and acquitted is unlikely to be re-tried.

I never said he would be re-tried. I said only that a mistrial would be declared (due to jury tampering). If the real killer’s story were credible then of course the charges against the original defendant would probably be dropped.

I’d imagine that if such a thing did happen there is no way anyone would know, because the killer/juror would become liable to be charged if it ever became known.

I would just accept it as a really clever plot device and marvel that the guy could render it in 2 paragraphs.

I wasn’t asking only for cases in which the juror admitted his guilt after the fact. I’m also curious about cases in which the police or some informant revealed that the juror had involvement in the crime.

If there’s any hint the person knew the defendant, witnesses, or the victim, or even any of the actors - police, judge, prosecutor, defending attorney - I assume the person would be automatically dismissed form the case. IIRC they even ask if you have been involved in a similar case in any way. It might happen in a small town, but in a large city?

Based on the size of most jury pools, I suspect the odds of anything like this happening are astronomical.

I also question whether the jury would eventually agree with a lone holdout or simply report itself deadlocked to the judge. That’s probably not how most jurors see their mission, to give in to the most obnoxious or difficult juror.

What are the chances a lone juror would not simply be kicked off the case for failure to see reason if the other 11 are adamant? I know if the juror say “He’s innocent. I saw it in a vision” or some other obvious nonsense, they can be dismissed.

Indeed. That’s why I was curious if it’s ever happened. :slight_smile:

Well, it makes for pretty good fiction—see for example Twelve Angry Men and its numerous adaptations.

While in the primarily metropolitan 21st century, this is true, I am not at all persuaded that it was true in the 19th century U.S. It might even have been less true in rural Britain in the 19th century, although I do not know how juries were selected in that time or place.

I would see a hung jury as more likely than having eleven jurors switch votes, but humans are quirky enough for lots of odd things to happen.

As to kicking a juror off a case, that would require something like your “vision” scenario than simple obstinacy.

md2000, just knowing one of the witnesses or parties to a case will not, in and of itself, lead to a prospective juror necessarily being excused. The court and counsel would then enquire as to whether that relationship was so close or significant that it would prevent the prospective juror from fairly and impartially serving as a juror. Counsel for one side of the other might err on the side of caution and use a peremptory challenge to excuse a prospective juror who slightly knew, say, one of the witnesses, but I’ve seen plenty of cases where so tenuous a connection didn’t get the juror booted.

A lone holdout juror may indeed, TAM-style, bring around the others to his way of thinking and lead to a unanimous verdict, or bring about a mistrial. Very difficult, obstreperous jurors who seem to be irrationally standing against an otherwise-unanimous verdict may, once in a blue moon, even be removed by the judge from the case. I know of actual courthouse examples of each around here.

I have never heard of a juror sitting in deliberation in the trial of a crime which he himself committed. Not to say it’s never, ever happened, but sounds like fiction to me.

I would think, too, that it’s rare - simply because most crimes, especially murder, are between people who know each other; the juror would likely not confess during or after, since he would still be liable; so the guilt would have to be discovered. If it were not found before trial which can take months or years to wrap up, then odds are it won’t be discovered after.

Just curious what latitude a judge has to “fire” a juror. I’ve heard of dozing during the trial or otherwise not paying attention, irrational behaviour like claiming visions, outside influences, etc. - but for just being the hold-out?

Not JUST for that, no (warning: pdf):

In high school, I played the role of The Angry Man in a play called The Jury Room, which was based precisely upon this premise.

Of course, modern voir dire should, theoretically, prevent such a thing from happening. They usually ask, “Do you know anything about this case or anyone involved in it which would make you unable to be impartial,” and I’d certainly think the actual perp would answer yes to that.

Of course, lying during voir dire might be the least of their offenses. :wink:

Twelve Angry Men occurs in real-time, though. The Jury was only hung up for about an hour, until other jury members began having doubts as well.

Fascinating link, thanks.

Of course, it seems that a judge might be allowed to, and will, dump a juror if they obviously express intent to do jury nullification (which has been beaten to death in previous threads). But I wonder what they could do if the juror says something like - “I don’t believe the cop, all cops are liars, so what he says must be the opposite of the truth. Cops will say anything to get a conviction.” (not far off what some people I know believe).

Isn’t the whole point of the initial jury selection that it is under oath - so saying you did not know the victim is basically perjury. Of course, it wouldn’t be perjury if you did kill a total stranger. (“You asked if I knew the victim or the accused…”)

The juror could get out of serving at the start easily, though, by telling the lawyers that he’d read a lot about the case in the papers; wouldn’t you scour the papers and follow the case on the internet looking for every detail if you had just done something like that?

Slightly tangential question:
In cases where there is any such sort of dispute over the goings-on in the jury room (especially if the court determines that a juror intends to nullify), is it ever possible for the judge to find the juror in contempt of court, and to fine or jail or otherwise penalize the juror? Has this ever happened? Or are jurors immune to any such finding of contempt?

This was presumably the case in von Kleist’s story: the juror was out hunting and a shot he fired killed the victim who was concealed behind a bush. There’s no indication that the two men knew each other.

But consider also that the voir dire procedures in England today (and presumably also in the 19th century) are much less rigorous than in the United States: each potential juror is asked only the single question, “Can you give a fair hearing to both the Crown and the defence?” If the candidate answers affirmatively, he is impanelled unless the defendant has a well founded objection, such as the candidate knowing the defendant or the victim. In von Kleist’s case, the juror knew neither the victim nor the defendant, and there were no witnesses to the killing, so there would have been no way for the defendant or the court to know about the juror’s conflict of interest, except when he himself chose to reveal it.

It can and has happened, but it’s very rare:,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=dc9072f4d1d34f4c&biw=1024&bih=594. Trial judges tend to be very wary of overstepping their bounds in punishing juror misconduct and later being reversed by the court of appeals, because they might have to hear the whole case all over again.

Just read a bunch of articles from the above search. Most deal with “rogue jurors” who lied or didn’t disclose important stuff during selection. I didn’t see much about how they deal with jurors who attempt, or are accused, or who state an intention, of refusing to apply the law – that is, cases of juror “nullification”. This is controversial – supposedly forbidden, but many jurors feel they have the power to do this because — well, because they have the power to do this. Jurors may respect a judge’s admonition to apply the law, because it’s the judge’s job to so admonish. But jurors may not necessarily believe that it follows, that they are obligated to follow the judge’s instructions. Jurors may feel that they have the power, and the duty, to disregard “rogue judges” just as much as the other way around. A juror may feel that the judge and jury are, or should be, equi-potent, otherwise why have a jury? Given that jurors do (and some believe, should) actually have it in their power to nullify, what lengths may a judge go to in order to prevent or punish this? How have these kinds of situation played out?