Mistrial Coming for Buju: Did a Juror Violate Court Orders?
Terri Wright is one of the jurors who helped convict reggae singer Buju Banton in a federal drug and gun trial in February 2011. She's also passionate about law. The Tampa resident, who works in the insurance industry, jokes that she would be a professional juror if she could.
But did her passion compromise the case's outcome?
In an exclusive interview with New Times, Wright says she researched certain aspects of the case online during the trial to have a better grasp of them when deliberation came around. "I would get in the car, just write my notes down so I could remember, and I would come home and do the research," she says.
In an interview, Wright mentioned the Pinkerton rule — which makes a conspirator criminally liable for offenses committed by a co-conspirator — and which the feds used to nail Buju on a gun charge despite the fact that he had no connection to the gun.
Standard instructions for federal trials tell jurors to "not attempt to research any fact, issue or law related to this case, whether by discussion with others, by library or Internet research, or by any other means or source."
"They give you the instructions not to go online and, you know, make an opinion. I tried to follow that as close as possible," Wright says, followed by a laugh. "I don't think what I found out would have changed how I thought."
That may not be her call to make. Violations of these instructions could lead to a mistrial and open up a new avenue for appeals.
"If she's doing that, actually looking up things that concerned the case during the course of the case, that's in violation of court orders," Buju's newly appointed attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, tells New Times. "That inappropriate behavior can certainly be basis for a new trial. If that's the case, we certainly will pursue it."
David Markus, the Miami-based attorney who handled Buju's first trial and retrial, agrees the revelation could be grounds for a new trial. "Jurors are given specific instructions not to do their own research for lots of good reasons," Markus said in an email to New Times. "If they do, there is a strong likelihood of a new trial."
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on the matter.
Buju is slated to appear in a federal courtroom later this month for resentencing on the gun charge. A judge is expected to add five years to his sentence.
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