Fed court overturns conviction of former Fla Dem Rep Corrine Brown over judge’s ‘improper’ removal of juror

Former Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) has just had her conviction on 18 counts related to fraud overturned by a federal appeals court which ruled that U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan improperly dismissed a juror because he said that God told him Brown was not guilty.

Charged five years ago with fraud after losing her last election, Brown was convicted on 18 felony counts connected to using a phony charity as her personal slush fund.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rendered a 7-4 decision ruling that she deserves a new trial on the corruption charges. It is seen as doubtful that the 74-year-old former congresswoman will stand trial again. Brown was released early from her five-year sentence due to the coronavirus after serving just over two years. She was still considered guilty of the charges until now.

The appeals court is in agreement with Brown’s defense attorney who contended that “Juror 13” was wrongfully dismissed because he said the Holy Spirit told him Brown was not guilty. Ironically, religious rights groups have backed Brown’s appeal over religious freedom in the matter.

(Video Credit: News4JAX)

“To the district judge, Juror No. 13’s religious statements were conclusive proof that he was not ‘bas[ing his] decision only on the law and the facts that were adduced at trial’ or ‘able to deliberate’ properly. That finding is not a credibility determination for which the district judge has a ‘superior vantage point’ and to which we owe special deference,” read the opinion written by Chief Judge William Pryor.

“Because the record establishes a substantial possibility that the juror was rendering proper jury service, the district judge abused his discretion by dismissing the juror. The removal violated Brown’s right under the Sixth Amendment to a unanimous jury verdict. We vacate Brown’s convictions and sentence and remand for a new trial,” concluded Pryor.

Judge Charles Wilson, in a dissenting opinion, commented that the appeals court should not have overruled the district judge who interviewed the juror prior to the decision to remove him.

“The majority casts the district court’s decision as misconstruing religious expression while failing to safeguard the right to a unanimous jury verdict. On this record, I cannot agree,” stated Wilson. “The decision to remove Juror No. 13 was a tough call, and one the district court did not take lightly. But from the district court’s superior vantage point, it was necessary to ensure that a verdict was rendered based on the law and evidence—a principle that is foundational to our system of justice.”

During a February hearing, the appellate panel signaled that they were open to Brown’s argument: “The record suggests that Juror No. 13 did what many jurors often do: he entered the jury room after having sat through a trial, ‘listen(ing) for the truth,’ and expressed to his fellow jurors that he did not think the defendant was guilty. Such an expression does not alone warrant dismissal,” the majority opinion noted at the time. That opinion found agreement with two new justices on the Florida Supreme Court.

Justice Robert Luck posited the question to David Rhodes, who is a government lawyer, that there was a “reasonable possibility” that the juror in question could have adhered to the facts of the case despite the assertion of being guided by God.

Justice Barbara Lagoa also questioned the prosecutor on what he had termed a “radioactive statement” concerning faith being used as a guiding principle.

“The trial court judge here, what he did was really make a personal rule. You can pray, but if you get a response, that’s an external influence,” Lagoa contended.

“A lot of people believe in asking and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit,” Lagoa remarked.

Commenters were stunned by the decision:


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