US Court: OK for Jurors to Take Indictment Home

Wednesday, 27 Jun 2012 01:18 PM


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You can take it with you.

A federal appeals court in New York refused to overturn the conviction of a man who claimed he was denied a fair trial because jurors were allowed to take his indictment home to read after deliberations had begun.

In what it called the first case of its kind, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday acknowledged a "marginal" extra risk of taking indictments home, noting that human nature and the Internet already leave jurors exposed to outside influences.

But it said a trial judge did not err in letting jurors review the indictment against George Esso, while admitting "the better practice weighs against the experiment undertaken here."

The three-judge appeals court panel also directed that Esso be resentenced. It said it was unclear why his sentence of one year in prison for bank fraud and conspiracy was longer than that of a more culpable co-defendant.

Darrell Fields, a lawyer for Esso, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for federal prosecutor Preet Bharara in New York declined to comment.

Esso and six others had been indicted over a scheme in 2006 and 2007 involving false representations in the mortgage application process.

After an hour of deliberations, Esso's jury at 4:25 p.m. on Aug. 25, 2010, asked U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin for permission to "take the indictment home to carefully read."

Scheindlin agreed, instructing jurors not to show it to anyone and saying it "saves some time" to read it overnight. She also told the jurors not to "even think of going on the Internet."

Esso was convicted the next day.

On appeal, Esso objected to a "heightened" risk that jurors, being human, could have been influenced by outside factors.

He also said taking the indictment home "overemphasized its significance, since it is a one-sided presentation of the prosecution's view of the case."

Writing for the 2nd Circuit, Judge Gerard Lynch agreed, but said Scheindlin's "clear and emphatic" instructions, and a lack of evidence that they were ignored, meant the conviction could stand.

He also said trial judges have great discretion to manage their courtrooms, and may experiment with trial procedures.

"In the age of electronic information, there is already a significant risk that jurors will conduct research," Lynch wrote, "just as there has always been a risk that jurors will be tempted to discuss the case, which consumes their daily attention, with family members and friends.

"The marginal additional risk created by allowing jurors to take home a copy of the indictment seems to us small compared to the risks that already exist due to modern technologies and the persistent features of human nature," he added.


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