Former Texas Mayor, Spouse Receive New Trial on Federal Fraud and Bribery Charges

May 29th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in White Collar Crime

When charged with a white collar crime, whether at the federal or state level, you have a constitutional right to a jury trial. The jury itself must be impartial and only consider the evidence lawfully introduced at trial. If there is any improper outside influence on the jury, that may be grounds for a mistrial or a new trial.

5th Circuit: Judge Not Required to Hold Hearing Before Throwing Out “Contaminated” Verdict

For instance, on May 1, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas judge’s decision to order a new trial in a federal fraud case, United States v. Jordan, due to a court employee’s improper communication with the jury during its deliberations. Prosecutors appealed the judge’s decision to throw out the jury’s verdict and order a new trial. But the Fifth Circuit said the trial court acted within the scope of its lawful discretion.

To give some additional background on the case, federal prosecutors charged a husband and wife with a variety of white collar crimes, including conspiracy, wire fraud, and bribery. The allegations arose from the wife’s two-year tenure as mayor of a Texas city. According to prosecutors, prior to the couple’s marriage the wife had accepted gifts from her future husband, a real estate developer, in exchange for casting “favorable votes on city rezoning measures.”

 

The couple’s trial took place in early 2019. After the jury retired to deliberate, it sent a note to the judge. The note said one of the jurors was “very upset and feels they can’t continue.” The juror apparently did not want to convict the defendants but feared she would be the lone holdout. The judge replied with a standard instruction that, “Every juror should re-examine their own views … and if you have a firmly held conviction, whatever that conviction is, that’s up to you to decide.”

A few hours later, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict. The next day, the judge informed the prosecution and defense that there had been a “conversation” the previous afternoon between a court security officer (CSO) and the reluctant juror prior to the verdict. The CSO relayed this conversation to some of the judge’s law clerks. Based on the clerks’ account of what took place, the judge decided the CSO’s actions “contaminated jury deliberations” and ordered a new trial.

On appeal, the government argued the judge should have held a full evidentiary hearing before making the decision to order a new trial. The Fifth Circuit disagreed. There was no “bright-line rule” requiring such a hearing, the Court said. Nor was there any precedent for reversing a trial court’s decision to grant a new trial in these circumstances. And it was not clear to the appeals court how an evidentiary hearing would have helped matters.

Speak with a Houston White Collar Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

In any criminal trial, the jury must be free of outside influence or contamination. If that was not the case, the defendant should receive a new trial. And if you find yourself facing federal fraud charges and need advice or representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today by calling 281-280-0100

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