The latest news from the trial of disgraced Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), is a deadlocked jury that cannot agree on a verdict. This has been a trial with many twists and turns over the past several weeks, and most of these twists have come from the jurors themselves. Today the jurors sent the judge the following note, “As of 2 pm, on behalf of all jurors, we cannot reach a unanimous decision on any of the charges, is there any additional guidance? And what do we do now?”
Judge William H. Walls instructed the jury to come back tomorrow prepared to continue deliberations. This comes on the heels of the removal of a juror.
The trial began on September 6th and had proceeded at a snail’s pace. It was so slow in fact that it caused one juror to be removed from deliberations. The juror had long-held vacation plans disclosed to the court from the beginning, but the court gambled and thought the trial would be done in time. The judge was wrong, and the juror recently dismissed. Evelyn Maultsby, the excused juror, gave an extremely rare contemporaneous view of the trial in an interview with the New York Times:
“The excused juror, in an interview later at her home, said that had she remained on the panel, she would have found Mr. Menendez not guilty of all the charges against him. “They’re trying to railroad the senator,” said the juror, Evelyn Maultsby, 61. “If anything, the government is corrupt, not the senator, that’s how I feel.”
On their first full day of jury deliberations in the bribery trial, another juror asked the judge an odd question: “What is a senator?”. U.S. District Judge William Walls apparently decided against answering the juror’s question, and the deliberations continued. This is a troubling question from a juror, and one wonders whether the mental capacity or general knowledge of the juror is sufficient to make a decision.
How It All Began
Menendez was indicted in federal court on April 1st, 2015 on 14 counts of bribery and corruption. He is accused of selling out his congressional office for luxury gifts and vacations bestowed by a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist, Solomon Melgen. In a somewhat unusual move, Menendez (D-NJ), decided his federal criminal corruption trial brought by the Obama/Holder Department of Justice was not a sufficient distraction to resign his office. So, he continues to proudly represent the Garden State from a courtroom in Newark.
The charges allege that the Senator received almost a million dollars in contributions and gifts from the wealthy West Palm Beach eye doctor in exchange for help dealing with a government Medicare and Medicaid problem. The government claims the good doctor, “overbilled the government by $8.9 million,” according to NJ.com.
12 Angry Persons
Jurors can return three possible outcomes when charged or tasked with delivering a verdict: guilty, not guilty, or no verdict. Guilty or not guilty verdicts are, with some exceptions, to be unanimous. When a jury cannot unanimously agree, they are often encouraged to go back to deliberations. Judges are mindful of the time, effort and expense of the trial and the desire for the jury to reach a verdict is strong. If no unanimous verdict is reached, generally a judge will declare a mistrial, and the prosecution is free to bring the case to trial again.
Demands for the jury to continue deliberations may be prejudicial to the defense. Anyone who has seen the movie “12 Angry Men” knows that jury deliberations on serious charges can be excruciating. The reason that defendants and defense counsel are weary of not accepting a deadlocked jury is that they think a compromise verdict may result. Defendants deserve to be tried and judged fairly, and such a charge can kill that fairness by making some jurors feel hostage to others’ opinions on the proper verdict.
Senator Menendez will have to wait for tomorrow and perhaps beyond to see what this jury will do now.