Monday, July 27, 2015

Michigan Supreme Court: Wrong Oath For Jurors In Murder Case Does Not Require New Trial

An interesting decision from the Michigan Supreme Court last week illustrates the distance we have moved from the original conception of oaths as invocations of Divine retribution for straying from that which was promised.  In People v. Cain, (MI Sup. Ct., July 23, 2015), the jury in defendant's murder trial were sworn in with the wrong oath, though no one noticed at the time.  The Clerk swore them in using the oath given at voir dire -- to truly answer questions relating to their qualifications to serve as jurors-- instead of the oath to return a true and just verdict based only on the evidence and the judge's instructions. In a 5-2 decision, the majority held that:
the jurors were conscious of the gravity of the task before them and the manner in which that task was to be carried out, the two primary purposes served by the juror’s oath. Thus, we cannot say that the error here of failing to properly swear the jury seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings.
Justice Viviano (joined by Justice McCormack) dissented, saying in part:
the oath was, and has always been, a defining criterion of “jury.” In light of this deep etymological pedigree, it seems quite implausible that the Framers, who lived in a time in which society placed great emphasis on oaths, intended anything other than a sworn jury when they drafted the Sixth Amendment.