If you were selected as a juror for one of the most high-profile criminal trials of the year, with a defendant who allegedly orchestrated the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people, you would think that you would err on the side of caution and follow the judge’s instructions to the letter. You would also think that there would be a tacit agreement among you and your fellow jurors that you wouldn’t speak to the press about it.
And yet, you would be wrong.
Following reports of jurors reading press coverage, in direct opposition to the judge’s instructions, Chapo’s defense team is currently gearing up to file a motion for a mistrial on the grounds of jury misconduct.
Reports of El Chapo’s defense team gearing up for a new trial began surfacing merely a week after the February 13th guilty verdict, when Vice News published an interview with an anonymous juror. In the interview, the juror alleged that the 12 members and six alternates of the jury regularly read media coverage of the trial, despite Judge Brian Cogan’s specific instructions that they avoid doing so. He also said that the jurors regularly looked at the Twitter feeds of the journalists covering the trial. “You know how we were told we can’t look at the media during the trial? Well, we did. Jurors did,” the juror told Vice News. (The jurors also reportedly joked about having an MTV reality show and giving each other nicknames like Mountain Dew and FeFe, which is obviously not grounds for a mistrial but is a pretty good indication of their mindsets by the end of the three-month trial.)
In itself, by giving an interview to Vice News, the juror was not violating any of the judge’s specific instructions; Cogan told jurors they were permitted to give interviews after the trial, though he advised that it may be unwise to do so for safety reasons. Nonetheless, the admission that the jurors were reading media coverage of the trial during the trial proceedings prompted El Chapo’s defense team to spring to action, issuing a statement on Twitter that “the jurors’ disregard and contempt for the court’s instructions…make it clear that Joaquin did not get a fair trial.” The defense also hired a fourth lawyer, Mark Fernich, to join the team.
— BALAREZO LAW (@balarezolaw) February 20, 2019
It’s unclear which repercussions, if any, the jurors will face. John Pappalardo, Criminal Defense Attorney and Conflict Trial Counsel for The New York Police Department (NYPD), told Fox News that “the juror misconduct may fall under contempt of court, particularly if they lied to the judge when questioned about specific instances of whether they had seen news reports. Civil contempt of court charges could potentially result in the jurors being forced to pay a fine, while criminal contempt of court charges could result in a fine, probation, and/or jail time.
Following a request for an extension, which was granted by Cogan, El Chapo’s defense team has until March 28th to file their motion for a new trial, at which point either a new trial date will be set or El Chapo’s sentencing will continue as planned on June 25th. As for the jurors, hopefully they’ve learned their lesson — or at the very least, that they haven’t already reached out to MTV producers for that reality show.