Like a Box of Chocolates: You Never Know What You Are Going to Get With a Jury

You never know what you will get with a jury. Sometimes, you get jurors who have watched two many episodes of CSI. Sometimes, you get jurors who drink tall boys during lunch. The latter was true in United States v. Ozomaro

A federal grand jury indicted Anthony Ozomaro for one count of possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. The case that followed was far from normal, however, as Ozomaro's actions ultimately led the District Court to order him to undergo a competency evaluation. Although the psychologist found Ozomaro suffered from mental illness, he found him competent to stand trial. 

Getting Ozomaro to trial was no easy task. The District Court permitted his attorney to withdraw and allowed Ozomaro to proceed pro se with standby counsel. Ozomaro then moved the District Court to dismiss his indictment, and, after it denied his motion, he stated he would not attend his trial.

True to his word, on he morning of his trial, Ozomaro refused to leave his holding cell at the courthouse. The District Court then dismissed the jury and adjourned his trial for four months. 

Ozomaro ultimately proceeded to trial in October 2021, and, after two days of evidence, the jury began their deliberations. After six hours of deliberations, the jury notified the District Court that it was having difficulty reaching a unanimous decision. This lead the District Court to issue an Allen charge. 

The next day, jury deliberations took a strange turn. Multiple jurors notified the court that a juror was drinking beer during lunch and had expressed bias toward the Government. After questioning each juror, the District Court concluded one juror -- Juror 109 -- was the cause of all of the complaints. The District Court subsequently dismissed the juror, not for his drinking, but for his purportedly professed bias toward the Government. Replacing Juror 109 with an alternate, the District Court instructed the jury to begin their deliberations anew. It returned a guilty verdict three hours later.

The District Court subsequently sentenced Ozomaro to 168 months imprisonment. In calculating his sentence, the District Court imposed a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice under USSG § 3C1.1 because he refused to appear for his first trial date. 

On appeal, Ozomaro challenged the District Court's decision to remove Juror 109, arguing the jury wanted him removed because he was a holdout juror. In addition, he challenged the District Court's decision to impose the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice under the Guidelines.

In a published opinion, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the District Court's jury selection and the sentence it imposed. First, it held the District Court conducted a sufficient inquiry to determine whether good cause existed to remove Juror 109. It also found that the District Court did not err in concluding good cause existed to remove the juror, adopting the "reasonably possibility" standard adopted by other circuits for determining whether a juror is, in fact, biased, or whether the perceived bias relates to the juror's disagreement with the evidence. Under this standard, the Court held that a District Court should excuse a juror in such a situation "only when no 'substantial possibility' exists that [he] or she is basing [his] or her decision on the sufficiency of the evidence." 

In this case, the Court found the District Court properly concluded "no substantial possibility" existed Juror 109 merely disagreed with the evidence presented and was, in fact, biased against the Government. The fact that multiple jurors informed the District Court about a juror who expressed bias toward the Government was sufficient to remove that juror for cause.

The Court also rejected Ozomaro's challenge to his sentence. Noting that his refusal to appear for his original trial date resulted in a two-month delay, the Court held the District Court did not err in finding Ozomaro obstructed justice for the purposes of § 3C1.1.  

No comments: