A Middle District of Florida District Judge in Tampa threw out a firearm conviction in a drug trafficking and conspiracy case against reggae star Buju Banton because one of his jurors apparently used information gleaned from the internet during jury deliberations. Unhappily for everyone involved the source of the juror’s information was not this blog.
|Tampa Bay federal attorneys are often even more frightened of the federal firearm and weapons five year minimum mandatory than we are of wayward jurors in that the five year minimum mandatory sentence by law must be tacked on to the drug sentence to run consecutively.
The judge has no discretion to run the sentences concurrently (at the same time, so a defendant serves two sentences at once) as is often possible in other crimes.
Press reports note that the Judge is weighing what to do with the juror, but has made it clear that the juror could face a contempt of court charge based on an investigation of the juror’s seized computer and conflicting statements from the juror. Googling jurors have been a recurring problem in the Tampa Bay criminal justice system. One of the unfortunate aspects of any criminal case is how complicated jury instructions can be. And the juror may have simply been trying to understand a firearm issue that could even trip up seasoned lawyers and judges.
In this case there was the additional complication of what is known as the Pinkerton Rule which establishes that if a co-defendant has a firearm in a federal offense others my be charged with the firearm and punished with the additional minimum mandatory five year sentence even if there was no proof the others had knowledge of the gun.
This rule allows the federal prosecutors to leverage the firearm minimum mandatory to force a plea of guilty. When Bufu Banton elected to go to the jury on the drug charges, the Government made his sentencing exposure much harsher by adding the firearm count. All of this was given to Banton’s jury in jury instructions composed of arcane legal language that typical Americans could hardly be expected to appreciate or understand.
Yet every Clearwater criminal defense lawyer would agree that American justice demands that a trial must be fair and that means that jurors must not be able to research facts and law during the trial.