Friday, November 26, 2021

Colorado law allowing verdict by 11-person jury is unconstitutional, appeals court rules

The Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday struck down a state law as unconstitutional, finding that felony criminal defendants are entitled to a 12-person jury and that the law saying otherwise was wrong.

The unanimous decision stemmed from a 2016 Denver case in which 11 of 12 jurors wanted to indict a man for possessing cocaine, but the final juror, according to court documents, disagreed philosophically with the state’s drug laws. Refused to vote for the guilty.

The judge presiding over the trial dismissed a holdout juror – finding that he was refusing to obey the law and perform his duties as a juror – and deliberated the remaining 11 jurors. Sent back to continue. The jury then returned a guilty verdict.

The judge followed state law—which explicitly allows an 11-person jury to return a decision if a jury is dismissed for cause after the deliberations have begun—but the Court of Appeal on Thursday reversed the man’s sentence and ordered that he be given a new trial because that law violates the state’s constitution.

“The law is invalid,” a panel of three judges wrote in the opinion.

Denver attorney Christopher Jackson said it is rare for courts to declare state laws unconstitutional. The decision of the Court of Appeals may apply retrospectively, but is unlikely to affect many defendants because jurors are often referred to reason after the jury has begun deliberation, and after alternative jurors have been dismissed. is not rejected.

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“It will be a very small group of people, because it doesn’t happen very often,” he said.

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