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CHICAGO (CBS) – Springfield power broker William Cellini won’t get an automatic mistrial after learning that a juror in his corruption trial failed to disclose her criminal record before being picked for the jury, but a federal judge will hold a hearing on the matter.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel ruled Wednesday that the fact a female juror was convicted of at least two felonies does not mean the jury’s verdict should be thrown out automatically.
Cellini’s attorneys have filed a motion seeking a mistrial over the juror’s undisclosed felony convictions, but prosecutors have argued that felony convictions in Illinois do not automatically exclude someone from serving on a jury.
In a written order on Wednesday, Zagel said the “issue bears brief discussion” and ruled that a hearing will be held on or after Dec. 1.
Zagel said the only question to answer is whether the defense can prove any “actual bias” from the juror’s failure to disclose her felony convictions on her jury questionnaire and during questioning in court.
“When a felon slips through the juror screening process, does that felon’s service on the jury lead to automatic mistrial? Every federal court of appeal that has addressed this issue has answered ‘no,’” Zagel wrote. “Instead, the courts of appeal have held that the proper course of action is to hold an evidentiary hearing where the defendant has an opportunity to prove ‘actual bias.’”
The judge also held that Cellini’s defense must be able to cast sufficient doubt on the juror’s impartiality in order to declare a mistrial.
“Much hinges on the nature and credibility of the juror’s explanation for uttering a falsehood,” Zagel wrote. “If the juror offers an innocent explanation that is simply not credible, then bias may be shown and a new trial should be granted. … If, on the other hand, a juror offers a bias-free explanation which the courts find credible – such as confusion or embarrassment about admitting to felony convictions before a large audience in open court – then bias cannot be presumed.”
It’s up to the judge in each individual case in federal court as to whether the court should run background checks on potential jurors.
In most cases, background checks are not conducted, except in high-profile cases.
Zagel had background checks done on the jury pool for the first trial and the retrial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but in Cellini’s case, no background checks were done.
–Todd Feurer, CBS 2 Web Producer