Terry Maketa, the former El Paso County Sheriff, stood trial in a Colorado Springs courthouse. Maketa was accused of using his power to punish employees and contractors with whom he disagreed. He was also alleged to have persuaded a domestic violence victim to recant her story and she was subsequently arrested. The alleged defendant in that case was a Sheriff’s deputy.
The jury returned not guilty verdicts on three charges and could not reach an agreement on four other charges. Prior to trial, the prosecution dismissed some of the other charges. The prosecution will now have to decide whether to go forward and try Maketa again on the four undecided charges.
Interestingly, during jury selection, multiple potential jurors were dismissed because they had decided Maketa was guilty before they heard any evidence. The outcome of this trial highlights a few things about jury selection and the important role a jury plays in the criminal justice system, so we thought we would take this opportunity to explain the jury selection and trial process.
Jury “selection” is a bit of a misnomer. “Deselection” would be a better description of the process. A group of community members are randomly selected to serve jury duty. From that group, potential jurors are excused for various reasons until the appropriate number of jurors are left. In a misdemeanor case, there are usually 6 jurors and on a felony case there are usually 12 jurors.
There are statutory reasons a person may be disqualified, such as, being related to one of the parties. Then, there are challenges that each party may use to excuse a potential juror. Challenges for cause are used when a party feels a potential juror is not fit to serve on the jury, meaning there is concern the juror may not be fair and impartial. There is no limit on the number of challenges for cause. THe second type of challenge are peremptory challenges. Each side has a limited number of peremptory challenges and each side may use these challenges any way they see fit, with a few limited exceptions.
In the Maketa trial, the potential jurors who were excused because they felt Maketa was guilty before they heard any evidence were likely excused early in the process.
A hung jury means the jury was unable to reach a unanimous agreement. When this happens, the charges do not just go away. The prosecution may decide to dismiss the charges, but the prosecution also has the right to try the defendant on the undecided charges again. Sometimes, the defense and prosecution will reach a plea bargain to resolve the case rather than having another trial.
For Maketa, the prosecution would not be able to retry him for the charges for which the jury found him not guilty. The prosecution may only retry him on the charges for which the jury was undecided. Additionally, the prosecution’s decision whether to retry Maketa may have an impact on the other people charged as co-defendants with Maketa. While the prosecution could decide to dismiss the undecided charges against a Maketa, a dismissal may mean the DA dismisses the cases against the co-defendants as well. While the law does not require this, co-defendant cases are often impacted by results in companion cases.
Colorado Springs and the rest of El Paso County will continue to watch this case. Following a hung jury, the prosecution has 90 days to retry the case, so a decision from the prosecution as to how they decide to proceed will be made soon.