Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ward: Bailiff-Juror Communication Requires New Penalty Phase Hearing

In Ward v. Hall, No. 07-11360 (Jan. 4, 2010), the Court granted habeas relief to a Georgia death-row inmate based on improper bailiff-jury communications during the penalty phase.

During jury deliberations in the penalty phase, the jurors were having difficulty imposing the death penalty, and three jurors asked the bailiff whether life without parole was an option. See generally, Reining in Juror Misconduct: Practical Suggestions for Judges and Lawyers, 84 Fla. B. J. 9 (Jan. 2010). The bailiff responded that it was not an option. Under Georgia law, if the jury so inquires of the trial judge, the judge is required to inform the jury that it is not to consider the question of parole. “By advising that life without parole was not an option, the bailiff left the [false] impression that Ward could or would be released on parole if the jury sentenced him to life imprisonment.” The Court added: “We do not take lightly our decision to reverse a death sentence rendered eighteen years ago. Nevertheless the record establishes that the improper bailiff-juror communication violated Ward’s constitutional rights and prejudiced him. Accordingly he is entitled to a new penalty phase hearing.”