After a police dog named Rocco was stabbed to death, jurors at the trial of his accused killer listened to a recording of the dog barking.
It was too much for one juror, who started to cry. The defendant’s attorney asked the judge to remove the juror, but the judge refused and an appeals court affirmed the ruling.
“The showing of emotion, in and of itself, during upsetting testimony, does not require juror dismissal,” the Pennsylvania appeals court said.
The court said the judge also instructed the jury not to be swayed by emotion, bias, or prejudice. But do jurors always always separate their emotions from their deliberations?
Crying alone may not be juror misconduct. But there are circumstances where a juror’s emotions may result in an unfair trial. Laurie Levenson, professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said it has been a difficult problem for courts to sort out.
“Preventing and remedying juror misconduct is one of the biggest challenges the criminal justice system faces today,” she wrote for the National Law Journal.
For generations, judges have been limited in their ability to determine after trials whether jurors acted impartially. In Tanner v. United States, the high court said a judge could not inquire about deliberations — even though jurors basically had “one big party,” getting high on cocaine and drinking throughout the trial.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court recently opened the door for judges to look into jury deliberations post-conviction. Following a criminal trial, two jurors reported that another juror stated the defendant must be guilty “because he’s Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want,” and made other racist comments. The high court, in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, said judges may consider such evidence to ensure a defendant receives a fair trial.
Crying jurors may show their emotions, but that does not mean they are biased. In the high-profile trial of Casey Anthony, jurors cried after acquitting the young mother of murdering her two-year-old daughter.
In the police dog case, the crying juror was joined by 11 others in convicting John Rush of animal abuse and other crimes. The judge may have felt something, too, as he revoked a $1 million bail because he considered him a danger to the community.
Rush had a history of running from police — at the time he killed Rocco a warrant was out for him from a previous fight with police. Even the defendant’s mother, who was removed from the courtroom after an outburst during the trial, was afraid of him.
Renee Rush told the court that she locked her own bedroom door when her son spent the night.