Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) is entitled to a new trial on fraud and tax charges, because the trial judge abused his discretion in removing a juror who said he received divine guidance on the case, the Eleventh Circuit said Thursday.
Brown was prosecuted on fraud and tax charges stemming from her involvement with a charity that purported to provide scholarships to poor students. Brown and her co-conspirators allegedly used her government position to collect more than $800,000, but spent almost all of it on themselves.
During deliberation in Brown’s federal trial, a juror stated the Holy Spirit told him in prayer that Brown was not guilty on all charges.
Because there was a substantial possibility that the juror was rendering proper jury service, the district judge abused his discretion by dismissing the juror, and the removal violated Brown’s right under the Sixth Amendment to a unanimous jury verdict, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said.
“There is no evidence that Juror No. 13 believed himself unshakably bound to his initial understanding of the Holy Spirit’s guidance,” the court said. Rather, the juror said he was following jury instructions and deliberating over the evidence, and the trial judge found him to be sincere and credible.
The juror’s statement “was no more disqualifying by itself than a secular juror’s statement that his conscience or gut ‘told’ him the same,” the court said.
The majority opinion was written by Chief Judge William Pryor.
Four judges dissented. The trial judge was in the best position to determine whether the juror’s statement warranted removal, Judge Charles R. Wilson said.
Kent & McFarland, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, First Liberty Institute, and CPLS PA represent Brown.
The case is United States v. Brown, 11th Cir., No. 17-15470, 5/6/21.