In a recent lewd and lascivious child molestation case in Jacksonville, Florida some unorthodox activity in the courtroom caused the appellate court to reverse the jury’s guilty verdict on those child molestation charges. Apparently, a biker gang wearing “Bikers Against Child Abuse” jackets congregated outside the courtroom in the presence of the jury before and during the trial and also attended the trial, although without the jackets. After the defendant was convicted of child molestation, the criminal defense lawyer appealed the verdict alleging that the presence of the bikers with the obvious anti-defendant message was designed to intimidate, and had the effect of intimidating, the jury into finding the defendant guilty. The appellate court agreed this conduct deprived the defendant of a fair trial, reversed the conviction and gave him a new trial.
One of the protections afforded to defendants by the Constitution is the right to a fair trial. This means that, in order to convict a defendant of criminal charges, the state has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The state must meet that burden by presenting evidence that proves the defendant committed the crime. The state cannot rely on any extraneous factors to help it win the case. For instance, any outside influences that might sway the jury are not permitted in court or anywhere that might have an affect on the jury. This includes people in or near the courtroom that might intimidate the jury or influence them with messages of any kind. A trial is like a closed laboratory. The jury can only rely upon those things the law allows a jury to rely upon to make its decision. Those things are the witnesses testifying under oath, any exhibits admitted into evidence, the law provided by the judge and the arguments of the attorneys. The jury cannot go home at night and investigate on the internet or in any other manner. The jury cannot resort to any outside influences at all. And no outside influences can do or say anything during the trial that might affect the jury’s decision. If there is an outside influence that is likely to affect the jury, either side can ask the judge for a mistrial so the defendant can have new trial with a new jury.