STATE OF NEW JERSEY VS. JAMES GLEATON
After three days of deliberations, a jury found defendant guilty of first degree distribution of cocaine and related offenses. The central and dispositive issue in this appeal concerns the trial judge’s response to criticism of the foreperson’s leadership style by a group of nine jurors. We hold the judge erred when he allowed the nine jurors to select a spokesperson to convey their grievances, instead of interviewing each juror separately. This error influenced the judge’s characterization of the foreperson as an "obstructionist."
The judge misapplied our decision in State v. Rodriguez, 254 N.J. Super. 339 (App. Div. 1992), to replace juror number 1 as foreperson. Although well-intended, the judge’s decision had the capacity of being perceived by the foreperson as a retaliatory act intended to coerce her to change her stance in the deliberations. The judge's bias in favor of unanimity influenced the impermissibly coercive steps he took against juror number one. State v. Figueroa, 190 N.J. 219, 237-38 (2007).