“A defendant is entitled to a fair trial but not a perfect one.” Courts across the country frequently use that phrase. And, as you’ve read on North Carolina News Daily before, that’s certainly the case. Whether it’s a sleeping juror or no record of jury selection, the chance of a “perfect trial” is slim to none.
Yesterday, NCND reported on the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ Aug. 4, 2020 opinion, in which the appellate court affirmed the criminal convictions of Jeron Gavin French. There, the Court rejected French’s argument that one of the twelve jurors who convicted him fell asleep during trial.
“[T]he issue of the sleeping juror,” as the Court put it, was only one of the two jury-related issues addressed in that case. The other involved the mistaken identity of another jury member that found him guilty.
No one realized that the wrong Rodriguez sat down with the jury.
During jury selection, Person County Superior Court Judge James E. Hardin, Jr. called “Oscar Rodriguez” as a potential juror. An individual rose from his seat and moved to the jury box in response. After the parties and trial court questioned the juror, Judge Hardin seated him as Juror 8 on the case.
Everyone later discovered that the individual seated as Juror 8 was not Oscar Rodriguez. “Instead, Ricardo Rodriguez, thinking his name was called, sat down.”
Once everyone discovered the mistake, French moved for a new trial. He argued that discrepancy deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial by jury.
But, like a sleeping juror, a misidentified juror doesn’t require a new trial either.
But, much like “the issue of the sleeping juror,” Judge Hardin rejected the misidentified juror argument as well. The Court of Appeals affirmed, emphasizing that “both sides deemed Ricardo Rodriguez a satisfactory juror” despite the name confusion.
“As Ricardo Rodriguez was eligible and deemed satisfactory by the parties to serve on the jury,” the Court of Appeals explained, “the fact that he was not the person who was called to be on the jury does not constitute a fundamental error requiring a new trial.” “Therefore,” the Court concluded, “the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying [French’s] request for a mistrial or alternatively to reopen voir dire.”
Like “the issue of the sleeping juror,” reasonable minds might disagree on how to address the issue of misidentified jurors. Yet it could worry state residents if anyone has a chance to sit down as Juror 8 in that case. Gratefully, that wasn’t the case here.