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The Case of the Stinky Juror

Something smelled fishy in the courtroom of Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Nancy Staffier-Holtz. In fact, it wasn't just in the courtroom. The smell pierced through even into the judge's lobby. Turned out, the smell was a juror -- the juror's body odor, to be precise. So the judge dismissed her. She explained on the record:

I just want the record to reflect, I guess, to be blunt, [the juror], for whatever reason, had some very bad, I guess to be blunt again, body odor, which was extremely strong, and I was able to detect in my lobby, as was the clerk, which is a personal matter for that potential juror, but for the fact that her personal problem was [of] such a magnitude that other jurors who had already been picked ... either by act or words had indicated discomfort with that problem.

One imagines a line-up of jurors with clothespins clipped over their noses. Nonetheless, the judge's decision to exclude the smelly juror left a bad taste in the mouth of the defendant. The defendant objected, noting that the excluded juror was of his same race. The judge stood by her decision, which she was was purely environmental:

My concern is not her background, but rather that I have [sixteen] jurors who are able to function. And given the strength of the body odor, I'm satisfied that the other jurors would be put at a distinct disadvantage in their efforts to concentrate. So I note your objection, but she has been excused.

The now olfactory-friendly trial continued and the defendant was convicted of second-degree murder and other counts. He appealed, asserting that the trial judge's dismissal of the juror prejudiced his right to a fair trial. In a decision issued last week, Commonweath v. Young, the state Appeals Court affirmed his conviction. It found no evidence that the racial composition of the jury was unfair. The judge's decision to dismiss the juror because of B.O. was OK, the court said.

We hold that the judge's dismissal of the juror was not an abuse of her discretion. Here, the jury had not yet been sworn, and therefore, the judge had no duty to hold a hearing or find an extreme hardship. ... The judge made sufficient findings on the record regarding her concern that the juror's body odor would affect the ability of the other jurors to concentrate. Accordingly, the defendant's claim fails.

The moral of the case: Justice may be blind, but it retains a healthy sense of smell.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 12, 2009 at 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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