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Court: Man convicted of Theater District triple stabbing got fair trial despite reluctant juror who brought up jury nullification

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled yesterday that Njisane Chambers of Milton got a fair trial on charges he waited outside a Theater District club and tried to carve up several people - one an off-duty state trooper - after one of the women in the group rejected his request to dance with him and he was tossed from the club for throwing a drink at one of the men.

In his appeal of his conviction for the 2014 triple stabbing outside Venu on Warrenton Street, Njisane Chambers argued his conviction should have been tossed in part because one of his jurors really didn't want to be in court and, during deliberations, improperly brought up up the issue of jury nullification - a theory under which a jury can basically do what it wants regardless of what the judge tells it.

But the appeals court said the judge kept a firm handle on the situation and the student did not get out of hand, so the conviction stands.

Before getting to the issues raised by Chambers appeal, the court first described the June 6, 2014 incident for which he was charged with three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon - and for being a repeat offender. After he was tossed:

Approximately thirty minutes later, the two couples left the club and began walking up Warrenton Street towards a parking lot where their car was parked. While they walked, the group was approached by the defendant and the other man [the off-duty trooper] had seen earlier in the club. They asked the group in a sarcastic manner if they were "the guys that were fighting, beating up those two people in [the club]." The defendant began "violently" waving his hands around and stabbed [the other man] in his lower back. When [his girlfriend] screamed "what are you doing," the defendant grabbed her arm, spun her around, and stabbed her in the upper left back, next to her lungs, ribs, and spine. [She] immediately fell to the ground, and Leslie began screaming. The defendant then swung at [the trooper] and stabbed him just below his belt, piercing his clothing. When the defendant attempted to flee, [the trooper] tackled him.

He was arrested by two BPD cops performing a detail just outside the club.

In its ruling, the court said the juror in question was a Northeastern student who told the judge while the jury was being empaneled that he was worried he would miss too many classes and fall behind on his schoolwork.

The judge informed the juror that he would not excuse him for that reason, and that the university would support his service as a juror. Juror no. twelve agreed and had no other questions. Neither party exercised any form of challenge to the juror.

Then, the trial started:

At the end of the first day of trial, juror no. twelve sent the judge a note stating, "I believe that the stress of missing school will result in an impartial [sic] decision on my part. I am terrified that I will fail my classes and do not know if I can make a fair decision in the near future." The judge was understandably troubled by the note and questioned juror no. twelve at sidebar. The judge explained that jury service by college students in the Boston area was in no way unique and that it was a great opportunity to be given such a responsibility as a young adult. He told the juror that many other students have had the same concerns and that the universities are required to make accommodations for jury service. The juror understood, but he remained concerned about missing classes and having to make up the work. The judge understood the juror's concerns, wanted him to be "comfortable" with his jury service, and instructed him to speak to university officials about what accommodations they would make for him and to report back to the judge the next day. The juror agreed, noted that he had already contacted the registrar's office, and told the judge that he "definitely want[ed] to participate in [his] civic duty," but remained concerned. After reassuring the juror that the university would permit him to make up the work he missed, the juror agreed to do as the judge requested.

The next morning, after the judge confirmed with juror no. twelve that the university would make accommodations for his jury service, the judge nevertheless inquired whether the juror could be fair to the defendant and give his attention to the judge's instructions and the evidence. The juror responded, "I would definitely do my best, but I can't promise anything." On further inquiry, the juror explained that he feared falling behind in his class work, but then indicated that he would "man up" and do his best.

At the conclusion of the colloquy, the judge told the juror he was "a perfect candidate" to make sure the right result was reached, to which the juror responded, "I simply don't know." The judge decided to continue with the trial and to keep the juror seated. Defense counsel requested that the juror be struck for cause. The judge explained that he would "keep [him] as a work in progress, and assured counsel that he would not keep the juror for deliberation if "he's impaired."

The appellate judges acknowledged that a juror who cannot keep a promise to be impartial is not a good juror, but said in this case, the issue might just have been the kid's manner of speaking. Also:

Unlike this court's review of the cold record, the judge was uniquely situated to measure juror no. twelve's demeanor and credibility. Although early on in the judge's inquiry, the juror stated his concern about his ability to be "impartial," the judge did not end the matter there. Instead, he conducted a careful and thorough examination of the matter, after which the judge was in a better position to evaluate and to credit (or discredit) the motivation and the effect of the juror's stated concerns.

At the end of the first day of trial, juror no. twelve sent the judge a note stating, "I believe that the stress of missing school will result in an impartial [sic] decision on my part. I am terrified that I will fail my classes and do not know if I can make a fair decision in the near future." The judge was understandably troubled by the note and questioned juror no. twelve at sidebar. The judge explained that jury service by college students in the Boston area was in no way unique and that it was a great opportunity to be given such a responsibility as a young adult. He told the juror that many other students have had the same concerns and that the universities are required to make accommodations for jury service. The juror understood, but he remained concerned about missing classes and having to make up the work. The judge understood the juror's concerns, wanted him to be "comfortable" with his jury service, and instructed him to speak to university officials about what accommodations they would make for him and to report back to the judge the next day. The juror agreed, noted that he had already contacted the registrar's office, and told the judge that he "definitely want[ed] to participate in [his] civic duty," but remained concerned. After reassuring the juror that the university would permit him to make up the work he missed, the juror agreed to do as the judge requested.

The next morning, after the judge confirmed with juror no. twelve that the university would make accommodations for his jury service, the judge nevertheless inquired whether the juror could be fair to the defendant and give his attention to the judge's instructions and the evidence. The juror responded, "I would definitely do my best, but I can't promise anything." On further inquiry, the juror explained that he feared falling behind in his class work, but then indicated that he would "man up" and do his best.

At the conclusion of the colloquy, the judge told the juror he was "a perfect candidate" to make sure the right result was reached, to which the juror responded, "I simply don't know." The judge decided to continue with the trial and to keep the juror seated. Defense counsel requested that the juror be struck for cause. The judge explained that he would "keep [him] as a work in progress, and assured counsel that he would not keep the juror for deliberation if "he's impaired."

The appellate judges acknowledged that a juror who cannot keep a promise to be impartial is not a good juror, but said in this case, the issue might just have been the kid's manner of speaking. Also:

Unlike this court's review of the cold record, the judge was uniquely situated to measure juror no. twelve's demeanor and credibility. Although early on in the judge's inquiry, the juror stated his concern about his ability to be "impartial," the judge did not end the matter there. Instead, he conducted a careful and thorough examination of the matter, after which the judge was in a better position to evaluate and to credit (or discredit) the motivation and the effect of the juror's stated concerns. ...

[A]t its core, this juror's concerns centered on his frustration about the inconvenience inherent in performing jury service. It did not reflect partiality or bias such that retaining him constituted reversible error.

The trial ended and the jury began deliberating. And then the juror sent the judge a note saying he "may know information" that would affect his ability to render a verdict based strictly on what he heard at trial. Naturally, the judge called him right in for a little talk. The student said, no, he hadn't heard about the case from anybody else, but that he had heard about the theory of jury nullification, that the jury was more powerful than the judge let on and that it could decided the case not just on what it heard at trial but whether it felt the very laws the defendant were being tried under were fair.

The judge explained that this was known as jury nullification, and that it was not permitted. The judge further explained that although he cannot instruct the juror on how to deliberate, he told the juror that the jury determine what the facts are, and that the jury must accept the judge's statement of the law regardless of the jury's agreement with it. The judge queried whether juror no. twelve had any question regarding his ability "to take the law as I gave it to you, and apply it to the facts as you and [the] other jurors find them?" The juror responded, "I don't think so." Sensing some hesitancy, the judge again explained the two different roles performed by the judge and the jury, and reiterated his instructions on the elements of the charged offenses.

Although agreeing with much of what the judge explained, juror no. twelve stated that he did not believe it should be unlawful to possess a small knife. The judge further explained that it was not just that the knife's blade must be more than one-and-one-half inches, but that the knife must also have a case that enables the knife to be drawn in a locked position. ... After this explanation, the judge asked the juror if he had any problem applying that law, to which the juror said, "I guess not." Not satisfied with the juror's response, and sensing that the juror may nevertheless disagree with the law, the judge further instructed that the juror had to apply the law even if he disagreed with it. The juror responded that he "thought that the jury had the power to choose whatever way to --," whereupon the judge interrupted and said, "I just told you it doesn't." The juror said, "Okay." The judge continued to explain the importance of the jury understanding their obligations and that there should not be any hesitancy. The judge then asked if the juror was able to apply the law to the elements as the judge explained, and juror replied, "Yes." The judge then painstakingly went through his other "major" jury instructions to ascertain whether the juror had any problem applying those instructions, and juror said he had no problem. Finally, the judge asked, in reference to jury nullification, whether the juror was able to forget about "what other people have told [him]." The juror agreed that he could, and that he could be fair and honest to his oath. When the judge asked if the juror was "all set," the juror replied that he was and thanked the judge for speaking with him. The judge thanked the juror and shared his appreciation for the juror having the courage to speak up and resolve his concerns.

After hearing this, Chambers's lawyer asked that the juror be excused - and the prosecutor in the case agreed. The judge rejected their request, saying he believed the student would act in good faith and "serve dispassionately" and not try to convince other jurors to reject a state law.

The appellate court ruled the judge did a good job convincing the juror not to get out of hand:

Based on the juror's response that he could apply the law as instructed, the judge did not abuse his discretion in crediting the juror's response and declining to discharge the juror.

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Comments

Juror number 12 was trying his darnedest to get dismissed, even after the trial was over and in the deliberation phase. How far can a juror go before a judge holds him in contempt?!

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Voting closed 8

Or was he just a clueless kid who was treating the judge like a professor?

In any case, it isn't like this guy got the heavy sentence for the knife possession charge.

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Voting closed 3

Did he mean biased?... mistakenly using the wrong word "impartial".

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Voting closed 14

Seems like Chambers was arguing that he didn't get a fair trial because #12 didn't nullify the final finding? Looks like the judge did a good job, #12 apparently went along with the other jurors and Chambers was found guilty.

He just wants another bite of the apple even though the judge did an apparently fine job of maintaining balance here.

Nullification is, in my opinion (and not everyone agrees with me, surprise) a valid judicial act, but it is an extreme measure only to be used in an extraordinary circumstance.
Today's modern judicial system appears balanced enough to nullify the necessity of nullification.

AG's link (paragraph 2) seems to show this kid's got more priors than most of MS13 combined.
He'll do five years minimum and maybe there's other stuff suspended from prior bad acts.

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Voting closed 9

a) For Massachusetts what are the particulars of Jury Nullification? b) In Massachusetts, how is Jury Nullification different compared with other States?
https://www.reddit.com/r/massachusetts/comments/9bq3t7/for_massachusetts...

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Voting closed 8