By Daniel A. Horwitz
Yesterday, Judge Monte Watkins declared a mistrial in the consolidated prosecutions of Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, which have come to be known collectively as “the Vanderbilt rape case.” Judge Watkins’ eight-page mistrial order is accessible here. As explained in detail in this post from last week, Tennessee law presumes jurors to be biased when they give false statements or fail to be forthcoming in response to questions asked during jury selection, and under such circumstances, a new trial is appropriate regardless of the strength of the evidence that was presented. In this case, the juror in question appears to have lied several times in response to a wide array of questions that he was asked during voir dire. For example, in page six of Judge Watkins’ ruling, he explains: “[I]t would be difficult to believe that Juror #9 did not [recall] his involvement in a statutory rape case when sexual assault, rape, and unwanted sexual touching [were] mentioned over one hundred and four times during the course of voir dire.”
Following Judge Watkins’ mistrial declaration, several observers have inquired whether the Double Jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from re-trying the two defendants. It does not. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, barring bad-faith or prosecutorial misconduct, “a mistrial ruling explicitly contemplates reprosecution of the defendant.” United States v. Jorn, 400 U.S. 470, 476 (1971). As the Supreme Court has explained: Continue reading No, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not prevent re-trial in the Vanderbilt rape case.
By Daniel A. Horwitz
[Disclosure: In a directly related lawsuit, the author filed an amici curiae brief in the Tennessee Supreme Court on behalf of several domestic and sexual violence prevention advocates seeking to protect the private records of the victim in this case. The author’s brief – which applied only to the civil public records request filed in connection with this case by The Tennessean on behalf of a larger media coalition – is accessible here.]
In Sunday’s Tennessean, Stacey Barchenger provides answers to several questions involving post-trial criminal procedure in the consolidated prosecutions of Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, which have come to be known collectively as “the Vanderbilt rape case.” Many of the questions that Ms. Barchenger answers in her column concern the alleged biases of one of the jurors who decided the case. As reported by ABC News, Mr. Todd Easter – who served as the jury’s foreman – was “a victim of statutory rape 15 years ago, . . . but [he] never revealed that information during the jury selection process.” According to The Tennessean’s reporting, one of the specific questions that Mr. Easter was asked during jury selection was whether he “knew any victims of sexual assault.”
Co-defendants Batey and Vandenburg have both argued that they are entitled to a new trial because Mr. Easter was biased against them but failed to disclose his biases during voir dire (jury selection). In her article, Ms. Barchenger correctly explains that “[i]f the judge [agrees that] the juror should have disclosed the [fact that he had been raped],” then the judge will “grant a mistrial and set a new trial date.” On Monday, the parties held an extensive evidentiary hearing concerning Mr. Easter’s potential biases, which will assist the trial court in ruling on the defendants’ motions.
This article attempts to provide a detailed summary of the legal questions that Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins will have to answer in determining what exactly Mr. Easter “should have disclosed” during jury selection, and whether Mr. Easter was legally biased against the two co-defendants. Additionally, assuming that Judge Watkins finds that Mr. Easter was indeed biased, this article explains why Mr. Batey and Mr. Vandenburg are entitled to receive a new trial—even though the evidence against them can fairly be characterized as overwhelming. Continue reading Juror Bias Under Tennessee Law, and What to Expect in the Vanderbilt Rape Case