Change extends service time for alternate jurors
Alternate jurors in Pennsylvania's criminal trials no longer will receive an early dismissal.
A procedural change ordered by the state Supreme Court, effective this month, requires judges to keep alternates for the duration of a trial, including deliberations, until a verdict is reached. Under previous rules, alternate jurors were free to go once deliberations began.
Alternates are selected along with the 12-member jury panel. They sit with the jury in court and hear evidence during trials.
The new rule will require alternates to be kept at the ready during deliberations in case a juror has to be replaced because of illness or any other reason decided by a judge.
“This has been used in the federal court system for some time, and it's very reasonable,” said St. Vincent College law professor Bruce Antkowiak. “Bringing in an alternate to deliberations can preserve the ability to get a verdict with that jury.”
That's the logic used by the Supreme Court in making the rule change.
“Given the difficulty and expense in re-trying large and complex cases the provision (to discharge alternates before deliberations) has come into question,” the court found.
If an alternate is promoted to the jury, deliberations must start over to allow the new member a full chance to review the case, the Supreme Court said.
Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said the new rule is welcome.
“This is a positive change that makes a lot of sense. Judges either should keep the alternates during deliberations, or at least should have the ability to do so. Otherwise, a great deal of the value of having an alternate is lost,” Marks said.
But court administrators are struggling with how to deal with the change.
“It's not clear what to do with them,” said Westmoreland County Court Administrator Paul Kuntz.
Court officials are exploring moving alternate jurors to a private area in the courthouse basement, where prospective jurors are held, while deliberations are under way.
The possible jurors-in-waiting still must be shielded from the public and kept away from outside sources that could contaminate their view of the case.
Earlier this month, the problem was tackled differently during two Westmoreland County criminal trials. One judge sequestered two alternates in his chambers during the jurors' deliberations.
Another judge kept the alternates separated from the public, but later dismissed them when jurors were asked to return to court for a second day of deliberations.
In that case, the lawyers in the case agreed to allow the trial to reach a verdict even if a sitting juror was removed.
“The biggest issue for us is how are we going to keep them separate from the public,” Kuntz said.
In Allegheny County, which had nearly 140 criminal trials in 2012, according to its most recent statistics, it will be up to the judges to decide how and where to station alternate jurors during deliberations.
“As per the rule, it will be done on a case-by-case basis. We don't anticipate any problems,” Chief Deputy Court Administrator Chris Connors said.
Fayette County court officials could not be reached for comment.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Derry planning commission member joins council
- Ligonier Township man jailed in alleged assault of police chief
- Mt. Pleasant hospital sets ‘exceptional’ example
- Greater Latrobe elevates lacrosse teams
- A Griffins great: Seton Hill soccer team supports 7-year-old honorary member
- Lab results questioned in fatal Mt. Pleasant car accident
- 40-year-old Latrobe woman used boy, 13, for sex, drugs, police say
- Podlucky mansion in Ligonier Township will go to sheriff’s sale
- Jeannette school board adds network assistant
- New York fuel cell company to add another plant in Mt. Pleasant Township
- Latrobe Municipal Authority to replace solicitor