William Cellini to Move for Mistrial for Juror Misconduct

William Cellini, a co-defendant of Rod Blagojevich who went to trial separately and was convicted a few weeks ago, will file a motion for a mistrial based on a juror's lying about her past criminal record. She had two felonies and denied having any both on her questionnaire and in jury selection.

Illinois automatically restores the right to sit on a jury to felony and misdemeanor offenders once they have been released from jail or prison or discharged from probation.

Illinois law does not exclude convicted persons from jury service, nor is a prior conviction grounds for a juror challenge for cause, though jurors must to be “[f[ree from all legal exception, of fair character, of approved integrity, [and] of sound judgment.” 705 Ill. Comp. Stat. 305/2.

Federal law only disqualifies convicted felons from serving on juries if their right to do so has not been restored by the state. This juror's rights were automatically restored.

Although this juror's probation had been terminated after a probation violation in one of the cases, since she was ultimately discharged from probation, her rights were restored.

Could Cellini argue that because the juror lied to the Court about her past convictions, she was not "of fair character" or "of approved integrity?" Courts in Illinois have held that the question of fair character and integrity should be decided on a case by case basis. But this was a federal trial and federal law prohibits service only by those felons whose rights have not been restored by the state.

After the issue came up in the trial of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, some federal judges began ordering background checks on jurors in high profile cases. [More...]

After the Ryan debacle, Chief Judge James Holderman assigned the federal court’s probation and pretrial services offices to conduct criminal background checks on jurors for certain high-profile cases — but only when approved by the trial judge.

Some judges, though, don’t like the background checks, considering them an invasion of jurors’ privacy. No checks were performed for the Cellini case, and to my knowledge, no public explanation offered. Judge James Zagel, who presided over the Cellini trial, had ordered background checks for the trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The convictions were discovered by the Chicago Tribune after the Judge, once the trial was over, ordered the release of juror questionnaires. The juror's convictions were for crack-cocaine possession and aggravated driving under the influence without a driver’s license.

It appears the issue Cellini's lawyers will raise is whether her lies about her prior convictions were intended to insure she get on the jury, indicating a bias.

Webb said Friday the juror in question had “multiple felony convictions and gave wrong answers [on her jury questionnaire] three times.”

“There is no question if somebody lies three times to get on a jury, she has a bias,” Webb said

The juror may say she was just embarrassed to admit her prior convictions. Or that she thought they were expunged once she completed probation. Or any other reason having nothing to do with a desire to get on the jury.

It will be interesting to see if the Judge thinks the issue is significant enough to allow Cellini, who is 76, to remain free pending appeal if the judge denies the motion for mistrial.

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    Only rarely do laws restoring rights (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Peter G on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 04:30:54 PM EST
    or even laws "expunging" prior records authorize the subject to lie about the facts in their past. It is one thing to say that a person is not disqualified from jury service because of a prior conviction.  It is quite another to say that person can lie about whether she was or was not previously convicted of a felony.  That's not the same as asking "do you have a criminal record of conviction."  A person whose prior conviction has been expunged could truthfully answer No to that question.

    you are correct (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 04:59:37 PM EST
    but so many people mistakenly think their convictions are expunged because they got a deferred judgment, or that they got a deferred when they didn't, I was raising the possibility that she could have mistakenly thought her convictions were expunged and that she didn't intentionally lie. I hear that all the time from clients ("my lawyer told me I'd have no record.") I don't want to assume she intentionally lied when we haven't heard her side of the story.

    Agreed, (none / 0) (#4)
    by Peter G on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 02:28:54 PM EST
    of course.

    Well, this is interesting. (none / 0) (#1)
    by Zorba on Sat Nov 12, 2011 at 04:01:02 PM EST
    I do wonder how the courts will interpret this.  Although I must say that the whole jury-selection process is also interesting.  Having been called several times for jury duty, both county, state, and federal, I find the whole process very, very strange.  I have to ask about how the founders of this country anticipated the current jury-selection process.  I cannot help but think that juries in the early days of this country had a lot of knowledge about the cases that they were called upon to serve- these were their neighbors, after all.  On the other hand, I do not think that jurors should lie about their background.