The 65-day trial of entertainer Vybz Kartel and the four other men accused of killing Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams finally came to an end yesterday with a guilty verdict. The 11-member jury returned a 10:1 decision after less than two hours of deliberation, but were sent back to consider the case due to Section 44 of the Jury Act that, which states:
the unanimous verdict of the jury shall be necessary for the conviction or acquittal of any person for such murder or treason.
(1A) On trials on indictment for murder not falling within subsection (1)(a), after the lapse of two hours from the retirement of the jury a verdict of a majority of not less than nine to three, of conviction or acquittal of any person for such murder, may be received by the Court as the verdict of the jury.
The jury in this particular trial has been a source of interest as the case was delayed several times on account of jurors reporting illnesses or emergencies and one reportedly visiting the offices of one of the defense attorneys. Yesterday, after the verdict was delivered, one juror was taken into custody for allegedly attempting to bribe the foreman to deliver a not guilty verdict. Therefore, this Fact Friday, we’re taking the opportunity to educate our readers about jury duty in Jamaica.
According to the Ministry of Justice, persons accused of certain criminal acts are judged by a jury of their peers, a practice inherited from the British jurisprudence. A jury is a group of people drawn from civil society and who brings their common sense, experience and wisdom to the matter of determining the guilt or innocence of a fellow citizen. This is done because of the belief that these jurors understand the nuances and idiosyncrasies of their society and bring their collective experiences to bear on a trial, while individual prejudices are likely to be neutralised. Jury trial ensures that the people are accountable to each other rather than to a government-appointed judge for decisions made.
- What is a jury? A jury consists of 12 ordinary citizens who are able to apply their common sense to the matter of determining the guilt or innocence of someone accused of an offence. The basis for a 12-person jury is that it is a representative cross-section of the local community and therefore are more likely to judge in line with generally accepted values of the society.
- Who can be a juror? Anyone who: is between ages 18 and 70; is on the current voters’ list; has a Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN); is a resident of Jamaica; can read and write English; has not been convicted of an offence for which s/he has been sentenced to imprisonment for more than six months.
- Who is disqualified or exempt from jury duty? Anyone who is suffering from an illness; anyone disqualified or exempt under provisions of the Jury Act (see qualifications above); if serving causes undue hardship or financial loss due to attending court. The Act also exempts certain persons from acting as jurors because of their involvement in public life, such as politicians, some public officials and diplomats; by virtue of their participation in the justice system, such as judges and lawyers; or because they render essential services, such as medical doctors, nurses, soldiers, teachers and pilots.
- Penalty for non-attendance. A person who has been duly summoned for jury duty and who does not appear, or who appears but refuses to serve, or who withdraws from jury duty without the permission of the court, or without good cause, may be fined $2,000.
- Did you know? Your employer is duty bound to give you time off to serve as a juror.
Important facts to know in case you are called to serve as a juror:
- Nobody should approach a juror out of court to discuss the case. If anyone attempts to do this, the juror should inform the judge or someone in authority.
- Nobody should in any way seek to influence a juror as to what verdict s/he should arrive at. No relative or friend of the person being tried should approach a juror to say anything.
- Nobody has a right to ask a juror what was said in the jury room by anyone when the verdict has already been considered.
- The State has an obligation to protect every person who serves as a juror. Any person who threatens or intimidates a juror in any way could be prosecuted and go to prison. Jurors are also protected from threats or violence after the case.