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August 29, 2012
According to an article in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a “runaway” juror was fined $300 by Judge J.D. Watts.
The juror had left for vacation right before deliberations started on a felony case. Her excuse was that English was not her primary language, which is an issue commonly discussed at voir dire, when the jury was selected. So, my guess is that her choice had less to do with language and more with the desire to go on vacation.
My question is whether $300 is an adequate penalty. While that is a lot of money, it pales in comparison to the cost to the State if the court would have had to declare a mistrial. Fortunately for the juror (and for the taxpayers), the defendant agreed to proceed with 11 jurors.
Part of me wants to give the benefit of the doubt to the judge, not because it was a judge, but because I know Judge Watts and he is a bright, thoughtful judge who is nobody’s fool.
Yet, part of the goal of sentencing is general deterrence — in other words, to serve as a warning to others not to engage is such conduct. I’m wondering if a more harsh sentence, even an overnight in jail, would not be more persuasive to a future juror contemplating serving on a jury when a vacation is approaching.
After all, there is a simple solution — anyone who tells the jury administrator that the dates for jury service are not available will get reassigned to new dates. That simple solution would be much, much better than simply not showing up.