Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog
     


Criminal Defense - Jury Trials: Can a jury visit the crime scene, as part of reviewing the evidence in the case?

Posted on: August 9, 2007 at 4:13 p.m.

It is logical to believe that jurors, acting as fact finders, can visit the scene of an alleged crime as part of trying to figure out what happened, and whether the accused should be criminally responsible (and thus ultimately be punished with time in custody).

As part of trial preparation, most experienced criminal defense lawyers will visit the crime scene. A visit gives a trial attorney a sense of proportion, context, and prepares him or her for successfully dealing with cross-examination, especially when questioning witnesses familiar with the location.

However, criminal law prohibits jurors from visiting the crime scene on their own initiative. The jury instructions in California specifically prohibit jurors from visiting or driving by the crime scene. The conventional wisdom of the court system is that lawyers, not jurors, decide on which evidence to present, and how to do so. Thus it is up to criminal attorneys to request of the trial judge to have jurors conduct a supervised visit of the crime scene, as part of evidence gathering in the case.

Recently, this was done in Phil Spector's murder trial pending as reported by the L.A. Times. " Jurors in the Phil Spector murder trial toured the music producer's Alhambra home this morning, with some jury members trying to re-create the position in which actress Lana Clarkson was found after Spector allegedly killed her four years ago.

A casually dressed Spector welcomed them to his "Pyrenees Castle," as the home is called on a sign out front, wearing a long-sleeved blue T-shirt, sweatpants and sandals.

The jury visit to the hilltop property was requested by the defense. Spector's team believes jurors who see the foyer where Clarkson's body was found will be better able to decide whether Spector held the gun that killed her or whether he was an innocent bystander several feet away. The defense contends the actress killed herself with a shot to the mouth in Spector's foyer.

Richard Gabriel, the defense's jury consultant, said one of the things jurors might discern is whether there were signs of a struggle in the small space -- such as furniture or rugs knocked out of position. (Apparently there were not.)

Four jurors sat in a chair where Clarkson's body was found as they tried to re-create "the position in which she was found," said Linda Deutsch, the pool reporter."

This was not the first time a high-profile trial conducted in Los Angeles had a jury visit the crime scene. The O.J. Simpson case also had the jury visit the home of the defendant.

Tagged as: federal law and defense, motion to dismiss unlawful police search







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