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A judge who told a deadlocked jury that its job was “to get a result” coerced it into returning a guilty verdict five minutes later, New York’s Court of Appeals ruled this week. The court admonished trial judges to strike an appropriate balance in their jury instructions, and upheld a decision of a lower appeals court that had reversed the conviction of Ramon Aponte for selling crack cocaine in Harlem. “Defendant was entitled to an uncoerced, unanimous jury verdict, not one tainted by the improper jury instructions given here,” Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick wrote for the unanimous court in People v. Ramon Aponte. The case focused on a supplemental charge that Supreme Court Justice Edward J. McLaughlin delivered to a deliberating jury in a drug case. After two days of deliberations, jurors sent a note indicating that they could not come to a unanimous agreement. McLaughlin told the panel the “point of this process is to get a result” and they should “do what you said you would do when we started which is to decide this case.” He said he was “nowhere near” declaring a mistrial. Five minutes later, the jury convicted Aponte of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance. The Appellate Division, 1st Department, reversed the conviction in a 3-2 decision identifying five errors in McLaughlin’s charge, and the Court of Appeals agreed with the 1st Department majority. Judge Ciparick said a supplemental charge to a deadlocked jury must balance the interest in resolving the case and the need for jurors to deliberate conscientiously, without surrendering their honest convictions simply to reach a verdict. “Contrary to the court’s supplemental instruction, the object of the jury system is not to ‘get a result,’ it is ‘to secure unanimity by a comparison of views and by arguments among the jurors themselves,’” Ciparick wrote, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court in Allen v. United States, 164 US 492 (1896). James M. Hosking of Clifford Chance in Manhattan argued for the defense. Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Sheryl Feldman appeared for the prosecution.

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