Saturday, November 25, 2023

Duluth Judge to Decide if COVID-19 Safety Measures Violated Murder Suspect’s Trial Rights; Juror Dynamics in a Post-Pandemic World: How COVID-19 Made It Harder for Jurors To Agree, and other C-Virus related stories

Duluth judge to decide if COVID-19 safety measures violated murder suspect’s trial rights
A judge has been asked to grant a new trial for a Duluth man convicted of murder in a courtroom that was closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Christopher Floyd Boder, 35, is serving 25½ years in prison for his role in the September 2019 shooting death of Timothy Jon Nelson, 33, in West Duluth.
A Duluth jury in October 2020 found him guilty of aiding and abetting another defendant, James Michael Peterson, in a fatal confrontation that occurred after Nelson reportedly attempted to rob Boder.
The trial, among the first to proceed at the St. Louis County Courthouse after a pandemic shutdown, was held with strict safety protocols enacted under a 6th Judicial District plan.
To ensure adequate social distancing, court officials completely rearranged one of the building’s largest courtrooms. As attorneys and court staff were spread out, a public gallery that typically could accommodate several dozen spectators was repurposed as the jury’s seating area.
That meant family and friends of both Nelson and Boder, along with members of the press, were not allowed in the physical courtroom. Instead, they were forced to view the proceedings via a closed-circuit broadcast in another courtroom one floor below.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals in February 2022 backed the plan, noting Boder never objected and ruling that the procedures “were not broader than necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.”
However, another opinion from the Minnesota Supreme Court in July added a new wrinkle to Boder’s case, along with other trials held across the state under similar conditions.
In an appeal of a Scott County aggravated robbery case, the high court wrote that “the exclusion of the public from a courtroom during the COVID-19 pandemic was a closure implicating (the defendant’s) right to a public trial.” The justices sent that case back to the trial court, ordering the district judge to “make sufficient factual findings about the decision to close the courtroom.” --->READ MORE HERE
Juror Dynamics in a Post-Pandemic World: How COVID-19 Made It Harder for Jurors To Agree
The COVID-19 pandemic left no aspect of life untouched, and the legal system was certainly no exception. Just a few days before courts and offices began to close in March 2020, a federal judge allowed a juror who fell ill to deliberate via FaceTime. Litigators and jury consultants quickly adapted to the new world order, whether it was conducting jury selection through virtual platforms, delivering voir dire from behind masks and plexiglass or discussing cause challenges with the judge and adversaries through wireless headsets.
At the same time that lawyers adapted and courtrooms became virtual, something less tangible was happening as well: group dynamics among jurors were evolving.
Before the pandemic, jury consultants at Immersion Legal saw two hung juries between 2015 and 2020. Since the return to jury trials in late 2020, these same consultants were involved in 12 trials that resulted in hung juries and subsequent mistrials. Beyond this striking disparity, Immersion Legal experienced three additional juries who were only able to reach a verdict after receiving the court’s Dynamite Instruction or Allen Charge, and we all noticed that juries seemed to be deliberating much longer than in years past. This left us wondering what could be driving these outcomes.
To better understand these trends, we studied the shifting attitudes among the venire members in focus groups and community attitude surveys, and we observed how deliberations unfolded in mock jury trials—both virtual and in person. What we observed was an increased polarization of ideas and opinions.
It wasn’t that jurors grew more or less anti-corporate following the pandemic; rather, they grew further apart. Among the topics we saw a greater divide were attitudes toward government regulations, opinions on personal responsibility, attitudes on employment issues and corporations, and numerous other factors that could influence case outcome.
Within the greater social context, this emerging trend is known as the tribal effect. Traditional tribalism refers to a social phenomenon in which people identify strongly with a particular group, often based on a shared cultural or ethnic identity. While this can cultivate a sense of belonging and support, it can also lead to conflict and the exclusion of non-group members. Among juries, this bond is not necessarily rooted in a shared cultural or ethnic background, but rather in strongly held beliefs or ideological factors. --->READ MORE HERE
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