Jury Tampering: Definition, Laws & Examples

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Jury tampering is a crime that can be committed in a number of different ways. In this lesson, jury tampering will be defined in accordance to the law, and some actual case examples of jury tampering will be provided.

Runaway Jury

In 2003, the movie Runaway Jury was released based upon the best-selling novel written by John Grisham. The movie took on the sensitive subject of jury tampering by highlighting a case filed against a large gun manufacturer. One of the jurors involved offers to deliver the right verdict for a price. Although the movie is a fictional account of jury tampering, jury tampering is a crime that is very real.

What is Jury Tampering?

First and foremost, jury tampering is a criminal offense that involves intentionally attempting to influence a jury in a criminal or civil proceeding or during a grand jury inquest. Some examples of jury tampering include:

  • Bribery to arrive at a certain verdict
  • Using threats and intimidation to sway a verdict
  • Having conversations with jurors about the case outside of the courtroom

Jury tampering can be direct, such as when one juror is trying to convince another to vote a certain way, or indirect, which is the case when someone asks another person or friend of a juror to influence the juror into reaching a certain verdict.

A juror is any person who has been selected to sit on a jury to evaluate evidence in a court of law. Attorneys who are involved in legal proceedings are also banned from interacting with jurors in order to prevent them from influencing verdicts. At times, protestors who block entry to a courthouse may also be charged with jury tampering.

Jury Tampering and the Law

Laws against jury tampering vary from state to state, but most states, and the federal government, consider jury tampering to be a felony offense. A felony is a crime that is punishable by at least one year or more of prison time, and in many states up to and including the death penalty.

The penalties for jury tampering vary by state as well. In Ohio, for example, the maximum penalty for jury tampering is 10 years imprisonment and a fine up to $250,000. In Louisiana, jury tampering in a civil case is punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to 5 years in prison. Whereas at the criminal level, it is punishable by whatever fine and prison term the defendant in the case receives with the exception of death penalty cases, where a sentence of up to 99 years of hard labor may be imposed.

Notable Jury Tampering Cases

Let's take a look at some notable jury tampering cases that have received media attention.

English Burton

In July of 2017, 18-year-old Charles Williams was on trial for murder. His father, English Burton, was present during the proceedings. One day after court, Burton followed one of the jurors and walked up to him while he was stopped in his vehicle. Burton proceeded to ask the juror for help and yelled out his phone number to call. The incident was reported by the juror and witnessed by a deputy who was parked nearby. Mr. Burton was sent to jail and charged with aggravated jury tampering.

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