05/02/14 STATE VS. DORSAINVIL
After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of first degree conspiracy to commit murder, second degree aggravated assault, and related second and third degree offenses. On the second day of deliberations, the jury reported it was "hopelessly deadlocked." Immediately following the jury's report of an inability to reach a unanimous verdict, sheriff's officers intervened at the jury's request to dissolve a physical altercation between two jurors. The trial court denied defendant's motion for a mistrial.
We reverse. A physical altercation between two or more deliberating jurors constitutes an irreparable breakdown in the civility and decorum expected to dominate the deliberative process envisioned by the Court in State v. Czachor, 82 N.J. 392 (1980). A jury verdict so tainted cannot stand as a matter of law. The trial judge's supplemental instructions to restore order exacerbated the problem by imposing a judicially crafted civility code of conduct that placed the judge at the center of jury deliberations in violation of State v. Figueroa, 190 N.J.