Still searching for that special someone? Jury duty is here to help!
Jury trial as romantic opportunity was first explored in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Trial By Jury,” where the Learned Judge resolves the dilemma (spoiler alert) by offering to marry the jilted plaintiff.
New York’s leading case on finding your soulmate at trial is People v. Lewie where a mother was accused of manslaughter for leaving her child in the care of her she-should-have-known-was-a murderous boyfriend. In the midst of deliberations in this easy case, a lady juror sent a note to the judge calling the prosecutor “a Cutie” and asking for the man’s phone number. A nutjob with a bias in favor of Cutie’s case, right? Wrong. “Eccentrics are not barred from serving on juries,” loftily intoned the Court of Appeals. Tough luck for mom.
But last week the Appellate Division put the kibosh on flinging woo from the jury box. The accused in People v. Tysheem McGregor was a member of “East Army,” a Harlem gang with a penchant for shooting people. The Cutie in question was a cooperating witness from a rival gang. After the verdict but before sentence, he mentioned to the prosecutor that one of the jurors was writing to him in jail.
“I feel for you,” gushed Juror Number Six’s billet doux, written during deliberations. “Seeing you and hearing you up there on the witness stand made me feel some type of way.”
Unabashed by having their romance exposed, the juror wrote to the Learned Judge asking him to help them get a marriage license.
This was too eccentric even for New York. The judge held a hearing to decide whether Juror #6’s feeling some type of way might have deprived Mr. McGregor of a fair trial.
By this time Juror #6 had written 50 letters to her intended and was talking to him on the jailhouse phone three or four times a day. “Obviously there was a physical attraction,” she patiently explained to the judge. Yes, yes, yes, he’d told the jury not to have contact with the witnesses, but you just can’t help yourself when you’re in love. “I wasn’t even thinking about any of that at the moment,” she said. “I was just being a human being making a mistake.”
Asked if having the hots for a prosecution witness might affect her verdict, she answered, “In a way. I just didn’t see it like that because to me his whole testimony was like, irrelevant to Tysheem’s trial.”
The judge was like, satisfied with this and decided that just because Juror #6’s conduct was “unwise,” it was “not of the kind which may have affected the fairness of the proceeding or a substantial right of the defendant.” Since the evidence of Tysheem’s guilt was “overwhelming,” it made no difference that one juror’s verdict was affected “in a way.”
The hell it didn’t, said the First Department. Like, only innocent people are entitled to an impartial jury? Tysheem gets a new trial.
Presumably Mr. Cooperating Witness will be safely married this time around.