Attorneys for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman may soon be moving for a re-trial after it was alleged that jurors routinely consulted inadmissible evidence and broke other court rules like talking to one another about the case in and outside the courtroom.
Vice journalist Keegan Hamilton spoke with one juror about myriad rules that were allegedly ignored consistently by the jurors involved in the months-long trial of Mexico’s most infamous alleged drug kingpin.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan repeatedly told his jury not to consult social media or typical news for outside evidence or to discuss the case among themselves before official deliberations. Several jurors allegedly did exactly that–and more.
Among the outside evidence consulted were several ongoing Twitter feeds about the trial–and one high-profile media story containing an allegation that El Chapo drugged and raped 13-year-old girls. That story was not allowed into evidence at trial because it “lack[ed] any corroboration” and was deemed “too prejudicial and unreliable.”
Hamilton himself tweeted about the story–and noted that Judge Cogan was likely going to ask the jurors if they had read those sexual assault allegations. Unfortunately for the defendant–and perhaps fortunately for the jurors–one of the Twitter feeds they followed was Hamilton’s own. Because the journalist had tweeted about the judge’s potential inquiry, the jurors knew in advance that they would be asked about it. So, they allegedly concocted a group lie.
“I had told them if you saw what happened in the news, just make sure that the judge is coming in and he’s gonna ask us, so keep a straight face,” the juror told Hamilton. “So he did indeed come to our room and ask us if we knew, and we all denied it, obviously.”
There was also a scurrilous story published about one of El Chapo’s attorneys by the New York Post. This story alleged that the attorney in question had a romantic relationship with a former client. Obviously not part of the trial itself, a request from the defense prompted Judge Cogan to ask a “vague question” about their exposure to this media coverage. The jurors apparently responded honestly this time and said they hadn’t read the story being referenced.
Immediately after the judge left, however, one of the jurors used their smart watch to find and read the story about Lichtman–and they shared the news with six other jurors, the juror told Hamilton.
As for their discussions about the case? Those supposedly occurred via whispers, notes on paper in the courtroom and “during the ride home.”
One of El Chapo’s lawyers immediately raised alarm bells about the revelations in the Vice article.
— BALAREZO LAW (@balarezolaw) February 20, 2019
“The jury clearly ignored the judge’s daily admonitions against not only looking at the press but also had inappropriate communications with each other. We’re researching the issue now and will make any appropriate motions for relief,” El Chapo’s lead attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said in a statement to journalist Noah Hurowitz–who covered the trial for Rolling Stone. “Joaquin Guzman deserved a fair trial.”
In a separate statement provided to Law&Crime, Lichtman elaborated a bit:
Obviously we’re deeply concerned that the jury may have utterly ignored the judge’s daily admonitions against reviewing the unprecedented press in the case. More disturbing is the revelation that the jury may have lied to the court about having seen some deeply prejudicial, uncorroborated and inadmissible allegations against Mr. Guzman on the eve of jury deliberations. Above all, Joaquin Guzman deserved a fair trial.
The Balarezo Law Office also provided the following statement after this story was published:
The issues raised [in the article] regarding possible juror misconduct in Joaquin Guzman’s trial are deeply concerning and distressing. The juror’s allegations of the jury’s repeated and widespread disregard and contempt for the Court’s instructions, if true, make it clear that Joaquin did not get a fair trial. The information apparently accessed by the jury is highly prejudicial, uncorroborated and inadmissible–all reasons why the Court repeatedly warned the jury against using social media and the internet to investigate the case.
We will review all available options before deciding on a course of action. Needless to say, we will enforce and vindicate Joaquin’s Constitutional right to a fair trial.
[image via RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images]
Editor’s note: this story has been amended post-publication to include statements from El Chapo’s attorneys and for clarity.