By FARRAH JOHNSON
THE Court of Appeal has quashed a $1,000 fine a juror was ordered to pay after he failed to attend all of the hearings of a criminal trial in the Supreme Court held earlier this year.
Walcott Miller was sworn as a juror in a murder trial which commenced on January 22. When the trial began, the jurors were told it would last two weeks. However, the trial ended up going beyond the time allotted and Miller left the country to travel for a trip he had booked in 2019. As a result, he was charged under Section 32(2) of the Juries Act and fined $1,000.
On Wednesday, appellate Justices Jon Isaacs, Stella Maureen Crane-Scott and Roy Jones ruled the fine exceeded the maximum penalty Miller’s offence stipulated.
According to a judgement posted on the Court of Appeal’s website, Miller had planned a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana which he had booked in December 2019. As a result, on February 8, Miller sought to excuse himself from further participation in the trial by telling the judge’s clerk he would be out of the country. Still, the court documents indicate that Miller did not obtain the leave of the court.
“The Crown closed its case on 11th February and the defendant was told of his election and was ready to call his witnesses in his defence,” the court documents read. “On that date the appellant was present and had been warned, along with the other jurors, by the judge once again and told to return to court on February 18, 2020, at 11am when the matter would continue. In the meantime, the appellant, unknown to the court and without having obtained the leave of the court, left on his trip. The court waited in vain.”
The matter was then adjourned to the next day, but Miller failed to appear once again. As a result, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest and he returned to court on February 24, with his attorney.
“At that point, he was told that he had been charged under Section 32(2) of the Juries Act, which reads as follows: ‘If any person, having been duly summoned to serve as a juror, refuses to serve when required by the court so to do, or if, after having been duly sworn he without leave departs the court before the verdict is given or before he is regularly discharged, the court may impose on him a fine of not more than $500.’
“The appellant was given his day in court. He explained a number of things in his defence to the judge, but at the end of it the judge imposed on him, after having heard his attorney, a fine of $1,000. The section, as I just read, has a maximum fine of $500.”
Miller appealed the fine on the grounds that the judge acted beyond her legal authority by ordering him to pay it. In their judgement, the justices also concluded that the fine could not stand since the judge “exceeded her jurisdiction.” Still, the appellate justices ruled that due to the nature of Miller’s offence, the maximum penalty did apply.
“Having also heard both counsel with respect to what a reasonable fine might be that could be substituted by this court, we have determined that the maximum fine ought to be imposed,” the court documents read. “This was a serious matter. The ongoing case involved a murder trial which was close to its completion. Everybody was waiting. The defence, as we heard from the judge in her remarks, was waiting for this gentleman to appear and basically the trial was held up due to his non-appearance. The maximum fine is fully justified in this case.”
As a result, the justices approved Miller’s appeal and replaced the original $1,000 fine with the $500 maximum penalty. They also noted that Miller had already paid the judge imposed fine and ordered him to be given back $500 to comply with their recent judgement.