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Drawing a distinction between proper juror reliance on everyday experience and knowledge, and improper injection of professional expertise in deliberations, the New York Court of Appeals yesterday ordered a new trial for a man convicted of homicide by a jury that included two nurses. The Court said that the jury that convicted Michael Maragh of criminally negligent homicide in connection with the death of his girlfriend was fatally infected by the observations of the nurse jurors, who shared their professional opinions with the panel. Yesterday’s ruling in People v. Maragh, 49, reverses the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, and affords the defendant a new trial. Maragh was charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter after summoning an ambulance to the Orange County apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Mae DeGroat, 26, of Middletown, N.Y. Medics found DeGroat in cardiac arrest and Maragh explained that she had suffered a seizure while having sex. However, after an autopsy showed that DeGroat suffered liver and spleen lacerations and died of massive internal bleeding, Maragh was arrested. At trial, medical evidence was key. The prosecution alleged that Maragh repeatedly punched DeGroat in the abdomen, causing the injuries that led to her death. The defense presented evidence that DeGroat died from a venous air embolism, which can result from having intercourse too soon after giving birth. Nine days before her death, DeGroat had delivered a baby. After the jury acquitted Maragh of manslaughter and convicted him of criminally negligent homicide, the defense learned through newspaper articles that jury deliberations may have been tainted, and filed a motion under Criminal Procedure Law �330.30. Orange County Judge Jeffrey Berry held a hearing, at which it became evident that two nurse-jurors had offered their own professional analysis of expert medical testimony. Berry set aside the verdict, but the conviction was reinstated by the 2nd Department. Yesterday, the Court of Appeals reversed. Writing for the unanimous Court, Judge Joseph W. Bellacosa said that it is both contemplated and desirable that jurors bring their own experience and wisdom to deliberations. “They may not, however, take the additional, forbidden step beyond the evidence of the cases before them,” Bellacosa wrote. The Court suggested that trial judges modify their standard instructions to explain the difference between ordinary and professional opinions of jurors, and to make clear that jurors may not use specialized expertise to “insert facts and evidence outside the record with respect to material issues.” However, the Court cautioned that its holding in Maragh does not open the door to unbridled post-trial inquiry into the mental processes of jurors. The matter was argued by Orange County Executive Assistant District Attorney David R. Huey for the prosecution, and Benjamin Ostrer of Benjamin Ostrer & Associates PC in Chester for Maragh.

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