June 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A juror who stated that he heard the voice of God telling him that a defendant was not guilty should not have been removed from the jury, a federal appeals court panel has ruled.

The case concerned former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), who was accused of filing false tax returns and committing mail and wire fraud in 2017. Before jury deliberations even began, one the jurors told the others, “A Higher B­­­eing told me Corrine Brown was not guilty on all charges.” He ad­ded that he “trusted the Holy Ghost.”

Other jurors were alarmed, believing that the juror would not judge the case fairly no matter what evidence had been presented. They alerted the judge, who consulted with attorneys from both sides before removing the juror.

The judge, U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan, made it clear that he was not removing the juror for praying or seeking spiritual guidance. Rather, he said, the juror stated that a Higher Being told him Brown was not guilty, which disqualified him from service.

Brown was found guilty on most counts, and her attorney filed for rehearing, arguing that the juror who had heard God’s voice should not have been removed. A federal appeals court later ruled that Corrigan had been correct to dismiss the juror. But in early May, the entire 11th U.S. Court of Appeals sitting en banc reversed that decision by a 7-4 vote.

The majority, led by Chief Judge William Pryor, argued that dismissing the juror might lead to other jurors  being removed simply because they are people of faith, pointing out that many people talk to God.

The dissenting bloc was not swayed. They argued that there’s a difference between praying and being unable to follow court instructions and offer an impartial verdict.

“As long as jurors have been called to sit in judgment of their fellow citizens, many have relied on prayer to aid them in that task,” wrote Judge Charles R. Wilson for the dissenters. “Many will continue to do so, and no one here has advocated anything different. It is not [an] attack on people of faith for a district court to ensure that jurors make decisions grounded in the law and the evidence, as our Constitution requires.” (United States v. Brown)

 

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