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Can Jurors Speak at a Defendant’s Sentencing?

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In State v. Mahoney, the defendant was convicted of first-degree aggravated manslaughter, second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and third-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution for the murder of his father. With a failed defense of battered child syndrome, he drew the sympathy of the jury, and two jurors began corresponding with the defendant, defense counsel and the judge after entering their verdict. Defense counsel notified the State and the judge that the two jurors would speak at the defendant’s sentencing. Over the State’s objections, the judge entered an order allowing the jurors to speak at sentencing, provided that they not discuss jury deliberations.

The Appellate Division, reviewing the judge’s order under an abuse of discretion standard, reversed and remanded to the trial court for sentencing without the participation of the jurors. The panel based its decision on the fact that allowing the jurors to speak at sentencing would undermine the sanctity of the jury process and ignore the clearly defined roles of judge and jury, and that the jurors would have no new relevant information to present at sentencing. While it is within the discretion of the trial court to allow individuals to speak at sentencing, those individuals are presumed to have a close personal relationship with the defendant, or have pertinent information other than the evidence presented at trial.


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