Cops on Juries (One Word: “Don’t”)

State of Utah v. Abisai Martinez-Castellanos: Conviction Thrown Out for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel After, Among Other Things, Retired Police Officer Empaneled on Jury

By Ken K. Gourdin

In the case of State of Utah v. Abisai Martinez-Castellanos, one juror was retired Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Paul Mangelson, who had a well-earned reputation as a drug interdiction warrior on the state’s highways; another juror said that anyone with drugs found in his car was probably guilty; and still another juror expressed reservations about her ability to serve. Furthermore, Trooper Mangelson knows the trooper who stopped Castellanos.

While Castellanos’s defense attorney apparently filed a motion to have drug evidence seized during a traffic stop thrown out of court, he never filed a brief in support of that motion. Citing these omissions as evidence that Castellanos’s defense attorney provided ineffective assistance to him at trial, the Utah Court of Appeals threw out his conviction. (I will probably have more extensive commentary here once I have read counsels’ briefs and the Court’s opinion. Stay tuned.)

Salt Lake Tribune coverage of the Court’s decision can be found here (this and any other links last accessed March 4, 2017): http://www.sltrib.com/news/4853232-155/utah-appeals-court-questions-if-retired.

I commented, “Ladies and gentlemen, you might not think it’s fair, but this case is why, if you’ve ever worn a badge and carried a gun representing any law enforcement agency, you shouldn’t be allowed within ten miles of serving on a jury . . .” (ellipses mine, in original).

I once was excused from sitting on a jury in a robbery case because I knew both the prosecutor and the defense attorney (and I may have been excused after further voir dire—questioning of potential jurors by attorneys to guage their fitness to serve—because my father was a police officer for 43 years).

Could I have been fair and impartial? Yes. But it was right that I be dismissed, if for no other reason than out of an abundance of caution. Why? Because the appearance of fairness and impartiality matter as much as those attributes themselves, because even if a process is fair and impartial, perception may be reality: if the public does not agree that the process meets those threshold criteria, many members of the public will lack confidence in it.

In response to another commenter who said that Castellanos should sue his defense attorney, I responded, “Maybe, but, hey! Who knows? If the lawyer hadn’t done such a crappy job at trial, perhaps the defendant would have been convicted legitimately and his sentence would have been upheld on appeal (if there even were an appeal) . . .”

To another commenter who said that Castellanos won his freedom and likely would win a large monetary settlement because of law enforcement conduct in this case, I replied, “I dunno. I’d have to look into what immunities, if any, might apply in this case before concluding that a huge payoff would be forthcoming.”

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About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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