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United States v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 3, 2018

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
GERALD THOMAS JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          James K. Bredar Chief Judge

         On January 25, 2018, following a roughly two-month jury trial, Gerald Johnson, Kenneth Jones, and Marquise McCants (“Defendants”) were convicted of multiple criminal counts, including racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Joint Motion for A New Trial (ECF No. 556) pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. The issues have been briefed (ECF Nos. 556-1, 561, & 571), and no hearing is required, Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion will be DENIED.

         I. Background

         Defendants assert that the jury was subjected to multiple external influences that affected their ability to render a fair and impartial verdict. The alleged external influences fall under two broad categories: (1) jury communications that were raised with and addressed by the Court during the course of the trial, and (2) an alleged conversation between representatives of the Government that purportedly took place within earshot of jurors, which was first bought to the Court's attention in the present motion.

         A. December 7, 2017 Jury Communications

         The first communication at issue occurred on December 7, 2017. That day, the jury raised two issues with the Court. First, multiple jurors informed the Courtroom Deputy Clerk that they

had observed that the paralegal, Ms. Panas for the defendants, had in their judgment been passing notes among herself, the defendants, and defense counsel. They also made the observation that on some occasions, in their view, after the notes had been received by the defendants, that the defendants had then looked up and looked at the jury.

         (ECF No. 556-2 at 2.) In addition, “one or more jurors, ” in the presence of “[p]retty much the entire group, ” subsequently “raised with [the Courtroom Deputy Clerk] the question of, well, is the judge going to take this up in front of the defendants themselves, in which case they will know that we brought this to the Court's attention.” (Id. at 4.) Defendants moved for a mistrial or, in the alternative, for voir dire of individual jurors. The Court denied both requests and instead sent the following communication to the jury:

Just after the jury was excused for the lunch break today, while still in the jury room, some members of the jury raised a concern with the Courtroom Deputy Clerk. Jurors noted that the paralegal, Ms. Panas, from time to time seems to be writing and exchanging notes with the Defendants and their lawyers. They also noted that at times the Defendants appear to be looking at the jury.
As a member of the defense team, it is entirely appropriate that Ms. Panas communicate in this fashion with the Defendants and their lawyers. And, it is appropriate and normal if from time to time a Defendant looks at the jury. You should draw no adverse inference from the fact that Ms. Panas is exchanging notes in this fashion or that from time to time a Defendant looks at the jury.
I remind you that each of the Defendants is presumed to be innocent unless and until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

         (Jury Communication No. 1, ECF No. 534 at 12.)

         Second, as the Courtroom Deputy Clerk was delivering the above message to the jury, she was

confronted by one or more jurors with other jurors listening. And they wanted to quiz her about the jury voir dire process that was conducted at the start of this trial . . . . And specifically, they raised with [the Courtroom Deputy Clerk] the concern that during that voir dire selection process, the lawyers for the defendants and presumably their clients, had in their possession a jury list that showed the names and places of residence, not the addresses right, it usually says the city. Whatever that list is. They were concerned, they were surmising that the lawyers had these documents and that the defendants had access to them, and that this was a matter of concern. …
Then the second concern was raised immediately thereafter, which was that while they were answering questions at the bench as potential members of this jury, they are troubled by the fact that they recall that I told them that the defendants, while not themselves at the bench could hear all that was being said at the bench, including the questions that I propounded to them, and more importantly the answers that they supplied. And that this was a matter of concern to them.

(Id. at 43-44.) The jurors also sent a note to the Court stating that “[s]everal jury candidates observed the paralegal sharing juror info (the packet) with defendents [sic]. We thought this info was for lawyers only. We are concerned about the info the defendents [sic] may have about us- from a personal safety perspective.” (Juror Communication No. 3, ECF No. 534 at 10.) Defendants ...


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