This morning oral argument was heard at the Arkansas Supreme Court in the case of Erickson Dimas-Martinez v. State. The jury sentenced Martinez to death. There were two primary issues before the Court.
First, whether the trial judge committed a Caldwell v. Mississippi violation by informing the jury that the Arkansas Supreme Court would automatically review the case with a “fine-toothed comb.” The trial court did give curative instructions; however, the judge began the instruction by stating that he understood the jury would be unable to follow the instruction. Therefore to call the instruction “curative” is quite a stretch. The judges seemed more focused on the second issue, which dealt with a tweeting juror and a sleeping juror. The judges and Appellant attorney seemed quite outraged not that someone would sleep or tweet during the trial but that the State’s position on each was that nothing wrong happened. The State actually took the position that as long as a majority of the trial was listened to by the juror he is fit to serve. Justice Corbin even went so far as to ask the State if she would mind if he texted or slept during her argument and assumed that he did not miss anything important. The State also misled the justices on several important facts that were later corrected by Appellant’s attorney; such as, whether the tweeting occurred during testimony and whether the judge instructed the jurors not to tweet at all. To the amazement of the justices, the State was resolute that the small nap and the tweeting were not improper. The importance of the second issue is that if a juror cannot follow a judge’s instructions in one respect, how can he be expected to follow another instruction, such as a curative instruction.
Ultimately this case will be helpful in guiding our lower courts on juror misconduct and Caldwell issues. Although I do not think much was gained by the Appellant through oral argument, I certainly think the State lost a great deal of credibility with the Court. The failure to make proper concessions and the multiple occasions upon which the State misled the Court will certainly weigh on the justices while they are in conference. Additionally, the State’s poor form in speaking over the justices and interrupting them will certainly hinder anyone from wanting to see the State prevail in this case.
Oral argument video http://arkansas-sc.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=4&clip_id=282
News article can be found at http://arkansasnews.com/2011/11/17/lawyer-tweeting-sleeping-by-jurors-cause-to-overturn-murder-conviction/