-Judiciary conducts orientation exercise for prospective jurors
Jurors in the country have come under repeated criticisms in recent years for the way in which they have conducted their duties, including unwanted influence by persons who are not member of the Jury.
The penalty for jury misconduct, according to the central office of Jury Management at the Supreme Court, has been considered contempt of court punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment, but it seems to be questionable.
Juror misconduct is when the law of the court is violated by a member of the Jury, while a court case is in progress or after it has reached a verdict.
Despite the punishment for jury misconduct, there are still huge juror misconducts; but as deterrent to juror misconducts, and to curtail influence of jury verdict, the keynote speaker of the Orientation for Prospective Jurors of the August, 2018, Term of Court has proposed for the amendment of the law, and harsh punishment, including a ban from public office, and/or a one-year imprisonment followed by a huge fine.
“The reasons why punishment exists is to give an opportunity to weigh the options, and instituting a severe punishment will help to encourage jurors to avoid being influenced or bribed,” Representative Jonathan Fonati Koffa said.
Koffa of Grand Kru County District #2 told the over 400 prospective jurors that fair justice is largely based on their verdict and if a juror is involved in malpractice, he or she must be penalized.
Rep. Koffa (counselor-at-law) said jurors play an important part in the court system because they give verdict, and therefore, they must abide by the functions and duties of a juror.
He informed them that they must refrain from communication with those outside of the trial or court case; do not bring outside evidence, and avoid conducting experiments regarding theories of the case outside the court’s presence, he told the jurors.
According to Koffa, jury misconduct is the biggest blow in the judiciary system, and a jury is the solution to the facts and evidence presented to them.
Rep. Koffa is the House Chairman on Judiciary. He urged jurors to apply the standards to make fair decision for the good of the country, community and neighbors so that the system for justice should be transparent.
“Jurors are the test of wills and the test of skills,” Rep. Koffa opined.
He added: “Jurors make their decision based upon the evidence presented in the Courtroom and admitted by the Court. Therefore they must pay very close attention to the evidence as it is presented; Jurors are not investigators and are not permitted to seek outside information about the case on their own and must not read, watch, or listen to any media accounts about the case.
“Jurors must not talk to anyone about the case before it is over, except that jurors may discuss the evidence among themselves in the jury room during recesses from trial when all are present. But jurors must reserve judgment about the outcome of the case until after all the evidence is presented and final deliberations begin; Jurors must listen carefully to and follow the instructions regarding the law, which will be given by the judge; and Jurors are required to arrive at a fair and impartial verdict fairly determining the dispute at issue in the case.”
Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., said the Supreme Court attaches great importance to the jury program. He briefed the prospective jurors of their civic duty as citizens and the important role they play as ordinary citizens in the dispensation of Justice.
He admonished those to be selected to serve, not to be influence by anybody. “Always decide cases based on the facts; because if you don’t, you may punish an innocent person or set a guilty person free, by the wrong decision you make. Always do what your conscience says is right,” he said.
The office of Jury Management was established through an amendment of Chapter 22, section 23.1.1 of the Civil Procedure Law (May 22, 2013) which states that, “As established by law, the National Jury Manager is appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee matters pertaining to jury management and is responsible for jury selection, organizing the central pool and ordering the number of jurors necessary for functioning of Circuit Courts under the supervision of the Chief Justice.”
The office of Jury Management has since been established in seven circuits within the Republic, namely, 1st & 6th Judicial Circuits of Montserrado County, 2nd Judicial Circuit of Grand Bassa County, 7th Judicial Circuit of Grand Gedeh County, 8th Judicial Circuit of Nimba County, 9th Judicial Circuit of Bong County, 10th Judicial Circuit of Lofa County, 11th Judicial Circuit of Bomi County and 13th Judicial Circuit of Margibi County.
The Jury Rule requires that trial courts provide prospective jurors with orientation prior to selection so that jurors may understand their role in the process.